How I Got a Refund From My Church

by Billy Braun

Money ManI 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.

Backsliding

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.

Giving

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.

Refunding

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.

Dear Bob,

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.

Cordially,

Billy….

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):

* * *

Caleb,

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,
Bob

  • http://www.redheadedskeptic.com Laura

    Wow, nicely done. I like what you said at the end, about it being empowering.

    I wonder if we could sue them for causing emotional distress and get more than the money back that we paid in? :)

  • Tabbie

    I’m actually impressed that they refunded your money! I can’t imagine small churches being able to do something like this, but they sure can pour on the pressure to plop 10% + into the collection plate every time it is passed. I know. My dad’s an ordained minister of the Assemblies of God and has pastored a number of churches in his lifetime. Growing up, I was required to attend 3+ times a week. I watched it all go down.

  • NoYourGod

    If the money was given in good faith (no pun intended, but I’ll take it), and if the church was open and honest as to what was being done with the money, I see no justification for asking it back unless you were absolutely destitute, or if the church leaders took what he helped build and twisted it into some monster very different than what he intended to help build***.

    Let’s say I’m a carpenter, so I build a table for a buddy. 12 years later, that buddy and I have drifted – he moved to the West Coast, I stayed East, and little communication has occurred. What right, legal or moral, do I have to ask for that table back?

    I do appreciated the way in which the money was requested back, but this man knew what he was giving, who he was giving it to, and what purpose it was used for. It should be considered water under the bridge.

    *** I was raised in a family that went to Catholic church. Now, THAT is an organization I would have no problems asking for my money back.

    • Jasowah

      What is you realize your buddy isn’t real? Does that change anything?

  • http://majesty-of-being.blogspot.com Serah

    I think I’m in agreement with NoYourGod that a refund is unjustified if given in good faith at the time. I work for a non-profit LGBT youth organization, and I can’t imagine, for example, entertaining a refund request from a donor who went out and got saved, determined homosexuality went against his value system and wanted his money back.

    • KTea

      I agree, but I think it was just a general wondering that brought him his “refund,” not that he felt entitled to it. It’s like asking for a discount on a future purchase, it never hurts, and if they consent to it you are unlikely to say no. Although, I suppose he should or could have made that clear in his emails…

      On another note, and off topic: How often does that “getting saved” scenario happen, honestly? This baffles me, saddens me, and makes this foggy day a bit grimmer. Thanks for your work, regardless.

  • http://clergyguy.blogspot.com Clergy Guy

    After thinking about it for a few minutes, this sounds like a made up story.

    If it were true, I can’t understand why anyone would be proud to act in such a low class way toward a non profit agency. It’s not the same as Walmart where a person can return a product he no longer likes. No one sold you a product that you could return when you no longer liked it. And no matter how persuasive (insistent, belligerant) the pastor might have been, you freely chose to give to them.

    • Darwin Rules

      I happen to know the gentleman that got the refund and I can assure you the story is true. Also, it is not so much that he no longer likes the product, he found out the product can not fulfill what it promises.

      • http://brgulker.wordpress.com brgulker

        Um, so one anonymous author in a blog comment assures me of the validity of another anonymous author on a blog that’s run by an anonymous author.

        And we get flack for believing the Gospels? :)

        I hope you see the irony here.

        • billybee

          Brgulker: Annonymous? Check the title and AUTHOR…And guess what? – I’m an actual person!

    • Jasowah

      What if you were brainwashed into buying the product?

      • Darwin Rules

        All religious beliefs require branwashing. No one is born religious.

        • Elemenope

          I think “brainwashing” in most cases has a connotation that here is rather incorrect. Brainwashing implies maliciously indoctrinating something that the indoctrinator knows to be false, whereas most religious teaching is in good faith and by someone who earnestly believes what they are teaching. Morally this is no different than any other sort of teaching what one believes to be true. There are obviously exceptions to be had here, but I think I’m on safe ground in saying that most religious teaching does not have the character of “brainwashing” any more than teaching empiricism would be “brainwashing”.

          • Jasowah

            Okay, I will agree is seems a bit exaggerated, but that is the only word I can use to describe it. I was born and raised Catholic and feel that it altered my belief system in a detrimental way. I eventually got to a point where I would do anything “if God asked”. God in the form of church too. Anywho, I feel really silly for doing that but being told something is true from the day you are born seems like a kind of brainwashing, whether friendly or not. If you wake up everyday and tell yourself, “the carpet is green”, and you do this for 20 years, you may very well end up believing it.

            • Elemenope

              It’s definitely reasonable to feel that way. Perhaps “indoctrination” would be a better word?

            • Jasowah

              Perfect.

          • Darwin Rules

            In the strict definition of brainwashing you are correct. However, ‘Brainwashing’ is often used loosely to refer to being persuaded by propaganda, a form of communication aimed at influencing how a person thinks. It is not unusual to see religious indoctrination referred to as brainwashing.

            • Elemenope

              I’m not disputing that it is a common way to refer to the practice. What I’m arguing is that it is an *inaccurate* way to refer to it. The particular sort of pejoration that the word connotes doesn’t match the reality of the practice being described. English is a powerful descriptive language precisely because each word in a set of synonyms retains a specific shade of meaning; every time someone uses a word incorrectly it diminishes this particular strength.

    • Thin-ice

      Clergyguy, does it make any logical sense whatsoever for this anti-theist site to publish a story which makes an evangelical church look good?? If you spend any time at all at this site, you will know that a pro-church story is as rare as a snowstorm in Los Angeles! I don’t understand why you would accuse us of the fabrication of a story that makes you clergy look good. Is it possible you are a secret agnostic/atheist who is mad that a positive story about a clergyman made it on here?

  • Jason

    maybe i missed something, but asking for your money back seems a bit… immature and undignifying. esp with the way you adn your wife reacted once you got the letter. maybe if you were destitute and or had medical bills to pay or something, that move would be justified, but it seems awfully petty otherwise. no where in your article do you state anything close to bitterness or anger at religion, so there are some huge leaps in your article that make it very unclear to the reader (at least to me) where this wanting your money back came from, other than the fact that you changed your mind about religion. and mind you, im an atheist as well, so im not going to quote leviticus to you and condemn you to eternal damnation. im just a bit confused.

    • Kodie

      I think that is what makes the account somewhat remarkable. At the encouragement of Glad Tidings, he had asked for his money back from PTL. Glad Tidings set a precedent, also Glad Tidings wanted the money instead. I think most people would think this was kind of socially awkward, but apparently, even PTL sent his money back upon request. I don’t know how that letter was worded though. Did he say he thought it over and felt it mattered more to donate it to his own church? I notice he didn’t request $900 or more back from Glad Tidings after he had moved to the Calvary Chapel.

      However, one need not be in financial straits to ask your former church to give your money back from tithing. He had gotten the idea from another church to ask a 3rd church for his money back once, so it was more like an experiment to see if they would. And they did. Not a lot of people have the stones to break etiquette that way, and we don’t know how the Calvary Chapel or Pastors Bob or Mike really felt about it. It could be since they had been friends, Bob understood. It could be he was put on the spot and felt obligated, but really got a bad taste in his mouth about it. Somewhat right, but maybe this gave him a bad angle on atheists being greedy and two-faced. Maybe it was just business, and this happens a lot more than you think it does. We don’t have all the information, but I can think of a lot of situations in secular life where one imagines the answer is going to be “no” so they don’t ask. I would say if the answer is going to be a grudging “yes,” then it’s also kind of impolite.

      Personally, I think if you were so holy roller once and wasted your money on tithe donations, it’s gone. Just like if you used to spend all your money on booze and now you don’t drink, or spent all your money on fancy clothes, but now you don’t have any place to wear them and they are out of style, you give them to goodwill, you get no money. Maybe if they are really nice, you can resell them in consignment shop, but you won’t get all your money back either way. Too bad for you spending your money on fake happiness, it’s over, move on with your life.

      • billybee

        Thank you for recognizing that the catalyst for my request was remembering that PTL had been gracious in returning money that I later regretting donating to them. All I had to do was ask.

        When Pastor Bob notified me that he would allow me a refund he stated that he “trusted that I must have a good reason” for my request and that he agreed that if I was unhappy with having donated to the church that I should be within my rights of asking for a refund.
        Also consider this; I donated years of service in the building of the fellowship in addition to all of the money that I handed over every week. Overall, I gave a hell of a lot more than I got…especially when you consider “the product”.

        The main point is this: If you could get the money back that you donated to the church by simply asking for it, would you? I thought it couldn’t hurt to simply and politely ask.

        P.S. The dollar amount C.C. and I settled on was substantially below my full contribution.

    • billybee

      @Jason: Sorry for the lack of detail…I’m lazy that way.
      Of course the result (refund) was awesome, but my main motivation was to stand up to the intimidation that I had cowered under for so many decades. Also…It was to test and see if people who teach biblical principles actually believe that giving to god works “both ways”.

      For me it was sort of like saying:”Hey Pastor, will you please ask ‘God’ if Billy can have his money back?”…and then find out what “Gods” answer might be.
      Christians are constantly reporting on direct messages from the Lord. I wanted to find out what would happen if the invisible shoe was on the other invisible foot.

  • Kodie

    The main point is this: If you could get the money back that you donated to the church by simply asking for it, would you? I thought it couldn’t hurt to simply and politely ask.

    This sort of goes beyond the church, and beyond just being able to get your money back. I’ve always been an atheist, so I don’t have the particular experience of tithing to compare with kissing my money goodbye in some other way.

    If anyone at any time ever regrets a purchase or donation or such, there may be nothing they can do about it. Most stores have a return policy for example, and require a receipt, even if you are holding an item in your hand that you want to return for your money. Many have a time limit or only issue store credit. For poor service, the Better Business Bureau might be able to help. Donations which are given to support one thing and are really funneled into someone else’s pocket – I don’t know an agency who will help you recover your donation, but that is fraud and should be addressed, and I would say, you have a right to ask for your money back if it wasn’t spent on what you expected or were told.

    So, the question isn’t really “would you?” but “should you?”

    I think even most atheists would see this as like any other donation to a charity. You voluntarily released your money to them, and didn’t call them thieves. You believed you were donating to a good cause. I would not exemplify a church donation separate from another charity, and I think this is where you are receiving flack for bothering with the exercise. If you donated money to a relief effort in another country and later became a xenophobe, would you ask for your money back? If you donated money to Habitat for Humanity, and later, you decided if living in an apartment in the ghetto is good enough for you, it ought to be good enough for anyone else, would you ask for or expect a return on your donation? If you used to like public television a lot, and now all you see them show is doo-wop reunions, would you give them back their mug and tote bag, and say you’d rather have your money instead now? If you volunteered a great amount of your time at a local hospital while you were unemployed, and then you relocated, would you ask them to pay for at least a portion of your time, since you’d been so awfully generous?

    I think what we’re getting here is religion is somewhat like a charity, even if you later think its causes are not in sync with your own ideals, and then again, a lot like a movie. You can ask for a refund on a movie ticket if the show was disturbed, but not because it was just bad. I went to college and got a degree, for another example. They still expected me to repay the loans even though for my money, I got low-pay entry level admin work you don’t need a degree for. Your example happens to be a church you used to believe was doing something awesome with your money, which you later changed your mind about due to circumstances. Just because there is no god doesn’t mean you were defrauded. I think most people would say get your money back from frauds, but if you went to the circus and they didn’t have elephants, it was still a show and you paid for it, and didn’t complain to management at the time for poor service, i.e. promised elephants and provided no elephants.

    So, yeah, I think if people knew they could get a refund on just about any regret, they probably would ask for their money back. I do think many people assume the answer is going to be no, because it’s unusual, awkward, and considered rude in our society, barring a fraud or unused or broken product return. That becomes an issue of “should you?”. For experimental purposes, go for it. You have nothing to lose. Society tends to frown on the skinflints, though. Nobody is saying it was a good place to put your money, but in general, you voluntarily threw your money down the drain on what seemed to you a good cause at the time, and even if there’s something you can do in a specific situation, it’s not necessarily the right thing to do.

  • http://www.irs.gov Internal Revenue Ser

    Dear Sir:

    Please remit any amounts claimed as donations on your tax return.

    Sincerely,
    The IRS

    • Daniel Florien

      I didn’t even think of these possibilities! ;)

    • billybee

      I did.

    • billybee

      To clarify: I claimed all $3200.00 of the income from C.C. on that years filing.

      • Darwin Rules

        Billy Bee, you cover all the bases. Bless you my Son :)

  • billybee

    Kodie, you said:”… I’ve always been an atheist, so I don’t have the particular experience of tithing to compare with kissing my money goodbye in some other way…”

    It feels really lousy to wake up and realize that you have invested years and years of your life into a false system that had indoctrinated you since childhood into believing that hell is your only option apart from following a strict adherence to the teachings of said faith system.

    Comparing the false hopes offered to the believer with any type of real world situation such as giving to charities or working at a hospital are poor analogies. As a believer, I was instructed and compelled to give money, time and effort to the Lord via the church because I believed that it was the only way to prove my faith to a god that wasn’t even there. I believed that “faith without works” would ultimately mean separation from God come judgment day.

    I really believed that I was giving the money to God through the church. I was literally told that I was building treasure in heaven by giving to God’s work ;aka; the church.

    These things may be difficult to understand if you’ve never had to break free from the trap of religious control, so I won’t fault you for your lack of experience….however…If you have never experienced the pain and struggle of deconversion from fundamentalism, then you will not relate to the therapeutic motivation that this provided me and potentially others.

    Lastly: this arrangement between myself and my former pastor was a two way street. If he would have at any point told me no (and for any reason) I would have cheerfully withdrawn my request.

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  • swmr1

    I hope Chuck Smith from Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa doesn’t ask me to refund the $100 he gave Campus Crusade for my initial support when I went on staff! For that matter, I had a whole team of supporters who could ask for a refund now that I’m a worthless apostate!

    Hmmm…maybe I’d like Crusade to have to give out some refunds…lord knows it was money totally wasted.

  • Darwin Rules

    BillyBee – I certainly agree with your assessment of religion vs. charities. A charity is not promising you anything in return for giving but some Churches will promise you a one way ticket to hell if you don’t give and. in some cases, if you don’t give enough. I think the incident with the PTL and Sister Barnett is a reflection of the greed that is so common in some churches. She probably didn’t have her eye on the Lord but an eye on a new dress at Macy’s.

  • Nathan

    This is a very interesting post. It is quite indicative and plainly displays one unblinkingly selfish and greedy individual (you), and one unconditionally generous and loving individual (the pastor). If only the world had more Pastor Bobs and fewer examples like yourself!

    Thank you for reminding us of the fruit of faith vs the fruit of unbelief.

    • billybee

      You are very fucking welcome.

    • Darwin Rules

      Nathan, thank you for showing us the fruit of delusion vs. the fruit of logic and reason. I can tell you are very Christian by the use of your derogatory language and total lack of understanding. Don’t forget to drop your donation in the plate Sunday. BillyBee needs it!

      • billybee

        Thanks, DarwinRules! Of course, I expected this from Christians who think like Nathan. You nailed it. ….and… I COULD use the change ;-)

  • e

    Wow, what a cool article. i agree with billybee and i also had a similar experience to him. i was involved with a christian cult for 3.5 years that was extrememly toxic, abusive and destuctive: emotionally , spiritually, and intellectually. i didnt tithe there but did at the next church which i spent 6 years at (then another 3 years at a different church before i finally quit for good). i think my primary reason for tithing was fear, fear that i would be punished by God if i didnt tithe. another motive was hope, because as billybee said churches often promise you God will give you various things if you tithe.
    and as billybee said it does feel lousey to have wasted so much time on so much bs. i was going to college getting A’s and B’s when i first got involed, but was quickly taught that education was of little or no value. sometimes i wonder what would have happened if i had stayed in school uniterupted and uncorrupted, i might have a phd by now.
    after leaving i began to study psychology more closely and discovered that fear is a means of control (as well as guilt, shame, etc.).

    • billybee

      Hi e,
      I really appreciate that we share a similar experience and that you found benefit in my story.

      Your comment shows that there are lots of people like us who had to struggle hard to find their own personal way out of the thick fog of faith. It takes a certain brand of courage and individuality to demand reasonable answers to forbidden questions. Our liberation came in steps as we peeled away the emotional layers that insulated us from the truth regarding Christianity. Let’s be thankful that we made it out. Keep making your own path.

  • http://brgulker.wordpress.com brgulker

    This has gotta be one of the strangest stories I’ve ever heard. Like Clergy Guy, I have a hard time believing it’s true. Playing the skeptic, I guess.

    It’s also kind of pathetic. Billy allegedly gave of his hard-earned money to a nonprofit entity that he, as an informed adult, believed in. He received a partial refund years after the fact, celebrated it with his wife, and then shared his story on the internet, where others joined the celebration.

    If the church wasn’t transparent with its finances and was pulling a bait and switch on the congregants, that would be one thing and possibly very justified. But there’s no indication of that. In fact, the way the story is written implies just the opposite.

    • Darwin Rules

      He didn’t demand the money back and basically left the decision up to his former Pastor. A better question is what motivated the Pastor to give the money back? Perhaps a little guilt complex?

      • Kodie

        I heard the answer was once not to answer the letter at all. He was written to a second time, and figured that hint wasn’t strong enough. Sure, passive-aggressive pastor doesn’t get out of an awkward situation that easily, and rather than hear about this over and over, just sends the money back. I really don’t know, but that’s what not writing back usually means.

        I don’t often agree with brgulker, but it is also hard for me to understand how a grown adult is so convinced that god needs money and then later somehow doesn’t accept the consequences of their choices in life. How does faith in god have so much more power than faith in an implement that lets you cut your own hair using a vacuum cleaner, or faith that you’ll really lose 20 pounds so you can fit in that fabulous dress you just spent a paycheck and a half on, or for that matter, faith that love is forever and weddings are supposed to put you in debt. People who have a lot of faith blow their money on many things in life, I don’t think church is worth a special excuse.

        • billybee

          Kodie: Once again…I had already expected and accepted to receive a “no” answer. I was at peace with any decision from C.C.
          My persistence in asking Bob to respond was due to the shift in communication between myself, Mike Sasso and Pastor Bob.

          After working with Mike, I had no assurance that my letters were actually reaching Pastor Bob. All I wanted (for my own mental satisfaction) was a direct answer from Bob.
          I risked a lot (emotionally) to take on this “experiment”. If you are under the impression that this was easy or non-threatening – you have misread the situation in the grossest manner. I really didn’t want to just leaving the whole thing hanging in the unknown. All things considered, my expectation of a direct and final answer from my former pastor was far from unreasonable.

          Lastly; My reason for sharing this experience is to help others who understand and relate to the fears one faces when leaving religion.

      • http://brgulker.wordpress.com brgulker

        A better question is what motivated the Pastor to give the money back? Perhaps a little guilt complex

        Yeah right. I’d say there’s a much, much better chance he was afraid of some type of lawsuit than he was feeling guilty.

        IMO, your actions are cowardly and vindictive. There’s nothing noble about what you did. You took advantage of someone, who by your own words, was always good and kind to you. You should be ashamed, not proud. You took actions as an informed adult. You should have manned up and accepted the consequences, namely, that you gave money to something that you now don’t believe in.

        • Darwin Rules

          brgulker – Appears you got a “two fer” I assume your 2nd paragraph is directed at BillyBee.

          I am sure you are correct that he was afraid of a lawsuit. It is quite common to read about former church members suing the church for a return of their tithing. NOT!

      • Caleb

        Darwin Rules, 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):

        Caleb,

        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,
        Bob

        • Darwin Rules

          Caleb, interesting and formative response. Glad you took the time to contact the church. Hopefully it will put to rest those that think the story is fiction.

          • billybee

            Caleb; Your inquiry to Bob, and his subsequent response satisfies my assumption that Bob did what he did for honorable reasons.

            I kind of see the whole episode as a “win -win” for both Bob and I. He got to demonstrate his faith, and I got the satisfaction of having faced my fears of an angry, albeit imaginary, god.

            For both Bob and myself; it really wasn’t about the money. Sweet.
            (3-28-10)

  • jemand

    All of you who are unhappy with billybee– you often bring up the “informed adult” thing… So if I ask my church for the money back I gave as a teen, would it no longer be “rude” or whatever? What if they managed to get me to promise, at 11, to give a tenth of my income to them, on pain of hellfire? (which they did…) What if I believed them and thought that was a morally binding promise, regardless of the fact that I was baptized as a minor, NOT as an informed adult?

    Would it be ok to ask for a refund if the programming just didn’t stick that long, but I still paid in thousands as a child? What about the money paid before I was 21? If I honestly believed that the promise they wrung from me at 11 was still morally binding, without knowing that coercing such promises from children at the cost of community and acceptance made for an psychological obligation on a child, who should not have been held to such a promise? Shouldn’t there be some allowance for realizing lies when *becoming* an adult, a “statute of limitations” as it were?

    Long story short, should I ask for my money back? (and yes, I’m a poor student now, that money would really help, but does my financial situation really matter?)

    • Darwin Rules

      Go for it! You got the old religious brainwashing.

    • Kodie

      Look, I think most of us think the church is a crock, and they’re always begging for money, crying and using guilt or whatever to pull it out of you. That’s marketing. Maybe they ought to be held to the same standards as RJ Reynolds (Joe Camel) or Budweiser (Spuds Mackenzie) and not make their product too attractive for minors.

      But I just can’t say well, the church is so evil, and all those dummies who believe in it and give their tithes are blameless. A lot of us spend money on things that turn out to be nothing, or even hazardous to us, that we regret, even when we’re children – things we were fooled into believing were necessary purchases, like jeans that promise to make us fit in at school, or video games, or drugs. I guess the idea here is that the church is especially dangerous, because once we are free from it, we can see that what we paid for was lies. Pretty much sums up a lot of things people waste their money on, and not especially significant as far as businesses go.

      Perhaps you do liken them to the drug pusher moreso than the corporation, and so asking for money ought to be illegal because obvious (to many of us), your money is going down the drain here, and god is obviously a lie they are selling, whereas you liked your Pepsi when you drank it, and you got a lot of wear out of your sneakers you just had to have, despite them not helping you “be cool” which is why you spent $185 on them, and not $35 on some serviceable brand nobody would be caught dead in (oh, really?). I mean, it’s your allowance, right, you’re supposed to learn how to navigate your finances, figure out who is trying to cheat you, etc., but there are adults who still have no control over that aspect of their lives, suckers who will try anything that promises to improve their life. Exercise videos and equipment are a great example. You can just be honest with yourself, that treadmill is a really ugly clothes hanger now… I mean, once, you could have gotten your money back, but you believed the tv, and you lied to yourself. You’re never going to watch those dvds and trim your fat thighs either. For some reason, it never occurred to you to walk outside, or just do some squats and lunges without a personal video trainer.

      For everything most of us despise about the church and people who believe in it, I just don’t see anything special about how they took your money and why anyone would think it’s such a unique case of regret that asking for a refund is at all socially normal. I think it was a good story, but not everyone is going to agree with the outcome. I don’t know where you even got thousands of dollars when you were a minor, and what you might have pissed it away on if you weren’t so in love with the lord, how many teens spent money on popcorn and movies and shiny presents for their girlfriend who broke up with them because they met someone with a car. True story, I had a boyfriend who wrote a letter to my mom listing all the presents (2) he bought for me and how expensive it was for him to rent a tux for the prom and how his dad makes him pay for the car insurance himself as to why he shouldn’t pay to replace a $30 mailbox post he accidentally crashed into, and that I should quit drama club and pay more attention to him, er, my schoolwork, right. This is a lot like the same thing! He still occasionally tries to contact me 22 years later, do you think I should see what he wants?

      I don’t know if you should ask for your money back. Like I said, a lot of us would like a refund on all our regrets, over all time. If you get your money back, you got your money back. If this was the predictable outcome of most such transactions, I don’t know why anyone would say they wouldn’t make such a request, just that it’s not done, and I don’t think church is really any different from anything you would have spent your money on.

      • billybee

        kodie sez: “… I don’t know if you should ask for your money back.”

        My response to that is: I think you are maybe starting to get the picture. If you have never been “under the ether” of fundamentalism, you cannot possibly identify with those of us who actually experienced the complete lack of good judgment that permeates the worldview of the “True Christian”.

        I appreciate your continued discussion. I also value your opinion. But, please seriously consider something that might not have already occurred to you.

        Here goes:
        Before I ever made any contact with Calvary Chapel, I thought about it for a long time. I turned this idea over and over for weeks before I arrived at my final decision to move into action. I didn’t just wake up one morning and think “I’m gonna get my money back!” and then proceed to hammer out a harassing letter to my ex-pastor.

        This “refund” event was something that happened as a mere bi-product after years of deep soul seeking and inner evaluation of my total catalog of personal beliefs. I debated this idea from every side within my own mind. I really tried my best to make what I thought was the right, moral and fair personal decision.

        The only component that has taken me somewhat by surprise is this: I naively expected the average non-believer to intuitively understand the reasons behind my need to take on this challenge. I fault myself that my writing should have been more clear in specifying those motives within the article itself.

        In closing: In the requirement for brevity, much detail is left out of the article. Maybe I should get to work on the screen play ;-)

        • Kodie

          Perhaps it is because I’ve never been in the situation, but perhaps it is just because I can name dozens if not hundreds of reasons not to make an exception for religious donations you regret. We have all spent good money after bad at every age. I did, however, agree, or it finally sunk in… no, I think I pointed this out on the first pass… as an experiment, a form of protest, and/or some kind of statement, or therapeutic step, or performance art, whatever you want to call it, I don’t care, I think it was cool. A lot of people fall into traps and when they take control, it’s not necessarily asking for your money back but what that represents to you. If someone was recovering from another issue, their pro-action might be something else, whatever puts them in the driver’s seat and not, years later, still feel like they are bound and gagged in the trunk; no matter how positive a track you are on, it doesn’t cease to nag at you. At least I feel now that getting your money back wasn’t the important part.

          I always get annoyed when someone says “get over it,” like, here, you let how you used to be define how you still were, and that’s the wrong way to be. Getting “over it” isn’t necessarily making some kind of stir like asking for a refund on your church donations or those moments in movies where some grown man confronts his father and has a giant cry about it, but sometimes telling yourself what you need to hear doesn’t sink in until you do something like confront your oppressor. That’s not so much making sure they know how you really feel as it is letting them know you’re not afraid what they think of you anymore – in most such cases, one actually has to prove it to oneself by the act of confronting. I totally agree with the symbolism of your effort, and I guess some money in the pocket is useful too. I think the feeling is priceless, but money is a pretty great bonus. I don’t think I’ve really changed my mind over all the things I’ve said, but I can also agree with a therapeutic motive for doing what you did.

          • billybee

            @Kodie: Thanks…nice post. Last night after work I sat and talked with a couple of people. One of them was a former hard-core TrueChristian like myself. The other person was/is just a regular kind “run-of-the-mill-non-religious type”.
            The subject (as usual) steered over to religion – as it always does with my fellow ex-TrueChristian friend. The time seemed appropriate, so I shared my refund story with these two friends.

            Their reactions were very interesting. As you might imagine, the ex-Xtian friend highly approved of my actions, while the “never was religious” friend sat with a somewhat-less-than-convinced gaze.

            Even with a lot of questions & answers and open discussion from all parties, the “never-been-there” friend was unable to relate to the other two people at the table…

            Such as it is; Thanks, Kodie, for giving this situation your time and attention. It has helped me understand people better and their well justified skepticism regarding my experience.

    • billybee

      To jemand: BINGO ! Thanks for caring enough to undertake a comprehensive reading of my article.

  • Pingback: Church Refund Redux | Unreasonable Faith

  • billybee

    Hi Ernest…GREAT talking to ya.!!!!
    bb

  • John N

    Wow. I was stumbling around and found this. Amazing story. It really shows the great character of our Pastor Bob. Like it or not Billy, God is still using you. I’ll be praying for you man.

    • http://ohmatron.wordpress.com/ Custador

      [CHRISTIANESE FOR DUMMIES TRANSLATOR ENGAGED]

      [INPUT BEGINS]

      “Like it or not Billy, God is still using you. I’ll be praying for you man.”

      [TRANSLATE MODE OUTPUT: ENGLISH, UK]

      “I feel unbearably smug about a figment of my imagination and wanted to share. Fuck you, man.”

      [TRANSLATION COMPLETE]

    • Hamish Milne

      Reasonable thought process: “This person does not want to remain in contact with me. I should respect their wishes and move on”

      Your God’s thought process: “This person has spurned me! I shall manipulate them for my own sinister purposes without revealing myself, then many years later I shall ensure they suffer eternal fiery torment”

      • Jabster

        … which is true love I think you’ll agree.

  • Colleen

    Billy! Someone forwarded this to me and I’ve got to tell you I found this exchange fascinating. As someone who was involved in Calvary Chapel back in Billy’s day and is still a part of the fellowship I wanted to weigh in. Like Bob, my husband I think of Billy often and always fondly. I too understand the pain that religious organizations can inflict on the human psyche. I was raised Catholic and know the intense guilt derived from fear in hierarchy. It’s been my experience that there is a huge difference between religion, religious organizations and the love and compassion Jesus taught. That said, Calvary Chapel Boise for me remains a group of imperfect people trying to share Christ’s love and compassion as best we can. By God’s Spirit we are able to help thousands of people locally and around the world – - – the drug and alcohol-dependent, the incarcerated and others marginalized by society. We also care for orphans in Romania and India, assist India’s HIV/AIDS affecting community in countless ways including housing and caring for hundreds of sick individuals as well as those orphaned or widowed by this devastating disease (no matter their religion). Furthermore we provide educational assistance for tens of thousands of impoverished Indian children regardless of their religion. Tithing is NEVER discussed. I don’t think there’s any need to debate Bob’s motive in returning the funds. He says clearly that God can function without our money, and if an individual doesn’t want to give he or she shouldn’t. That said, I encourage anyone on this blog who still wonders from time to time if Jesus could possibly have done and said and been all that the Bible records to check out ccboise.org. You might discover the greatest liberating force known to man: Jesus–the one who does indeed heal the broken hearted and set the captives free.

  • Eddy

    I am not part of a church nor am I an atheist. My takeaway after reading this story is of an impertinent atheist and a shrewd pastor. $3500 is a small price to pay for such good advertising.

  • Pingback: “How I got a refund from my church”: The story of a Calvary Chapel worship leader who got his money back from Bob Caldwell and Calvary Chapel Boise » Calvary Chapel Abuse | Calvary Chapel Abuse

  • Gary

    Hurray for this Pastor!!! God bless you.

  • Sven Goran Ericksson

    Astounding.

    The cajones on some people…

    If you’re an atheist then you have no right to reclaim money spent in your own stupidity.

    If you’re a theist, don’t be persuaded by one who ‘lost faith’ and became an atheist simply requesting a refund as if the faith were goods not fit for purpose. Require them to prove the invalidity of the product or service. It could be argued that this guy didn’t go off the rails until leaving the church. Demonstrates an aanecdotal case that the religion was good for him.

    But either way, the church won. They managed, without trying, to make atheists look like childish fools, while at the same time appearing big-hearted and devotedly concerned for the wellbeing of someone who can only be described as unstable and indulgently attention-seeking.


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