Where Your Money Is, So There is Your Heart
Wealth Does Not Equal Favor
Kenneth Copeland is the wealthiest “pastor” in America and his net worth is around 780 million dollars. The problem is not that Copeland is wealthy. The problem is being rich is considered a proof of salvation by many. And prosperity preachers do nothing to stop this lie from being perpetuated. This problem expands when we begin to ask what is the money being used for? None of the top paid Pastors in America has offered any financial, or logistical assistance to assist this nation through its current crisis. They have stayed largely quiet on the social issues that have divided the country and in many cases they have supported abusive policies in their churches which have allowed them to fleece their flocks, live in comfort and accrue wealth.
Every nonprofit in the US must fill out an IRS 990 form to prove that they used their tax-exempt status wisely, as they promised. Except churches for some crazy reason. You’d think that if God knows what they do with their income, they’d be OK sharing that with the rest of us.
Step 1 is to remove this exemption from churches. It’s a no brainer, and Christians should be as eager as anyone to see this change made. Churches may have nothing to hide, but it sure doesn’t look that way.
Well, I think the pastoral role is worth the pay, but I take your general point. Fortunately or unfortunately entertainment values have always been an important part of the process that is religion. When these turn into status symbols, as they so easily do, then the rot will seriously set in.
However, rather than steer toward the Emerging Church’s formlessness, I would like to see a deep re-thinking of how to fight off these tendencies with genuine engagement of the spiritual side of the congregants. How do we appeal to younger members on the basis of genuine heart commitment to mission, rather than familiarity with the techniques of worship? How do we build genuine relationship without requiring a surrender of autonomy and dignity?
These are not easy issues but they are doorways to something meaningful.
Greeting John Gee,
Thank you for putting my thought and concerns into a well organized article. These same concerns have bothered me for decades as I’ve watched greed and selfishness erode away the Christian church here in the States. May I share this article with others? Maybe different voice will resonate with the people I hang out with.
Of course! Thanks for reading
Please do not lump all Christian churches under the same umbrella. I am a Christian who is an Episcopalian. I agree with what you have said as too many churches have forgotten that “God so loved the world” and instead focus on the false prosperity gospel. We Episcopalians have what others would call our faults. We are an inclusive church and follow our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s “Way of Love”. That means that along with those like me are supporters of LGBTQI persons, same sex marriage, welcoming the immigrant, documented or undocumented, and other views which are considered progressive, we also have people who don’t. They get angry with the National Church because it refuses to think like they do. We support same sex marriage and although the church will not force a clergy person who doesn’t to officiate at them, they are required to find another Diocesan Bishop who will help them find someone who will. It is not ideal; however, if we are to be inclusive it is what God wants us to do. God loves us all unconditionally and expects us to do the same. In our Baptismal Covenant we pledge to “respect the dignity of all persons” and are expected to do the same and when we don’t, we need to confess that sin. Since I mention sin, we do not see being LGBTQI is a sin or being in a same sex marriage or being transgender and doing whatever they deem necessary to live into the gender they are rather than the one they were born with.
As for money a little over a half of the Episcopal Congregations can only afford part-time clergy and administrative staff so that they can do ministry not just keep the lights on. My church is one of those. The National Church and Dioceses all over the US have downsized so that more money is available for ministry.
Yes, go after the false prophets like Copeland and other false ministers. Yet, please remember we are not all like them. There are many people like me who are poor and struggle to make it financially who love their church and God and give what little money we have left over from paying bills to help others and volunteer our time to do such missions as helping the homeless and others who need us. Then we do have those who are financially well off, yet they follow Christ’s admonition…those to much is given, much is required. They are the ones who give generously to support the mission we do in Christ’s Name.
The church isn’t a company. It’s the body of Christ. If some Christians want to give to a prosperity teacher let them. Although I don’t agree with some of Copeland’s teachings and his false prophecies or words of knowledge he will answer to the God he claims he serves. The money Christians give towards supporting the offices of the church should never be taxed. They give it in good faith. No one is forcing them to give. Separation of church and state must be in place. Could the church do better with its money? It sure could.
The big problem is that the US tax code has a big problem. In fact, society has a big problem. How do we subsidize the positive while diminishing the negative? For example, how many people would be offended by a community arts program for kids? How about a “maker space” for adults? How about a food bank?
But with religion, it’s a problem because society accepted the big lie. The big lie is that religion is a good. It is not. It’s a happy hour for the mentally ill. (yes, MY sincere beliefs and logic have led me to the conclusion that religiosity is a mental illness. Much like OCD or other illnesses. It impairs a person’s life with invisible creatures. That person invariably “sacrifices” money they probably can’t afford and worse, sacrifices time in snake oil nonsense. Instead of larping or cosplaying and building a real community, religious groups are just another random tribal group that wants to survive by killing others.)
What I’d like is some definition of what a charity is. What a social good is. However, it cannot include Sunday “Happy Hour”. It cannot include VBS (I loved that when I was a kid.). It cannot include Wednesday night bible study. Because that’s just the secular version of a meeting of like minded individuals who wish to play D&D games or table top games.
My idea of charity is secular and broadly community orientated. It must produce tangible good. No happy hour for me. Coming out of one of them, the participant must be in a better place. I don’t care if that means they had a bed because they’re homeless. I don’t care if it’s their local center where they learn how to write resumes or term papers. I don’t care if it’s a community center where they learn hip hop or whatever. What I care about is that the person who walks out of those places has a tangible good for the low low cost of walking through those doors and signing up. No tithes or 10% nonsense. Real charity. No happy hour.
As for the churches. Have them break out the finances and show where the money was actually spent. Most christians are woefully unaware of how little is spent on charities.
Small churches face this problem. Their building and administration fees are high because they don’t have the revenue. The Copelands have far more revenue so they can easily afford their buildings and administration costs and stash a few millions in their bank accounts. I say … burn them all to the ground. One is too inefficient to do good. The other is.. evil. It’s a bad charity. It would be better to tithe directly to Planned Parenthood than it is to waste money at either a small church or a big church. Planned Parenthood provides a tangible good. Even if you are broke, they will help you. Even if you are a Christian, they will help you. Even if you are a man, they will help you. That’s a real charity.
Please know that not all pastors are “well paid.” In fact, most could not live if their spouse did not, also, hold a job. In most mainline churches the pastor has to be well educated in the Liberal Arts, for four years with a degree and an additional degree in Theology, which can take from three to four years. This is the educational equivalent to becoming a lawyer or Primary Care Physician. The pay that a pastor receives does cover housing, but not a home in which most people would choose to reside. The “Parsonage Committee” is very reluctant to upgrade that parsonage, thus it is often dated and in need of repair.
If you are speaking of the Mega Churches, they are another story, and frankly are not “churches” but entertainment centers.