Extortion, blackmail a fact of life in churchianity
I was reminded the other day of the big, brown pennies with
which I grew up in the days of pounds, shillings and pence. I was reading about
the Pacific Island churches that are insisting that members pay much more than
they can afford towards church funds.
My first reaction was to wonder why only Pacific Island
churches were being targeted for criticism when churches all over the place are
robbing their people blind and have been since the charismatic and Pentecostal
movements took off.
My second was to remember the big, brown penny which I
clasped in my hot little 5-year-old hand and plonked in the collection plate
when it came round at church on Sunday back in the mid-1940s.
It would have bought a tiny icecream, or a couple of lollies.
My mother always put a little envelope in the plate which
contained her weekly pledge to our church.
I think it contained half a crown, or in today's money 25c.
Doesn't sound much, does it? But then my dad was bringing up
a family of two fast-growing boys on something like £15 ($30) a week.
Just as it has infected society at large, greed has infected
an awful lot of churches, many of which demand that their members tithe their
incomes (often gross incomes) to their churches.
This is in spite of the fact that there are only two
references to tithing in the New Testament, both of which are highly derogatory
and used by Jesus when he was climbing into the scribes and Pharisees for being
rotten to the core.
Tithing went out with the Old Testament. The Apostle Paul
taught the early church: "He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly,
and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. So let each one give as
he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a
Note the proscription on "of necessity". It is
something a lot of pastors and elders might reflect on as they continue to use
spiritual blackmail to force their members to provide the funds to build big
churches and enable their pastors to dress in Armani suits, Yves St Laurent ties
and Gucci shoes, drive big, new, shiny cars and attend conferences all over the
I have heard appeals for money made by evangelists, healers
and pastors that are so blatant ("Whatever you give to God he will give
back to you a hundredfold") that they have made my spirit curl - and I have
never set foot in a Pacific Island church.
It seems to me that if churches are going to make a thing of
one superseded Old Testament law, then they should, perhaps, start insisting on
obedience to a few more, among the least onerous of which would be making women
cover their heads in church.
But the theology of a lot of churches is based on a selection
of verses of scripture, most taken out of context, designed to justify a
preconceived philosophy. And as a dear priestly friend of mine is wont to say:
"A text taken out of context is a pretext."
These are churches that are taking hostages rather than
making disciples, and when you take hostages you have to fence them in.
Thus, a lot of modern churches have become more legalistic
than any mainline church, including the Catholic, ever was, in the interests of
retaining members and keeping the funds flowing in.
And if you dare to question any of their pastors or leaders
on the way they interpret scripture and suggest that their interpretation could
be amiss, you'll simply be patronised and deflected by being told that the devil
is having a go at you.
It has long amused me that many Protestants who pooh-pooh the
thought that the pronouncements of the Pope are infallible grant biblical
infallibility to their own pastors when it is demanded of them.
My God is a God who wants me to think for myself.
He has given me the Bible, which contains all he wants me to
know about him and tells me how he would like me to be and to act, and has
promised me that his Holy Spirit will teach me its truths.
He doesn't want me to fall prey to theologians, who have
spent millenniums trying to define the indefinable and explain the inexplicable
to such an extent that some of them, like our own Lloyd Geering, are reduced to
imbecilic jottings with titles such as "Christianity Without God".
Church members need to know that the whole question of
material giving is something that is strictly between them and God and if anyone
tells them that a certain sum is required by their Lord, then they are being
And the pastors and leaders who are behind this criminal
extortion need to remember that, when the time comes, they will face a stricter
judgment than the people they have robbed.
Incidentally, as a matter of interest, that penny I put in
the plate back in 1945 represents - according to a most helpful bloke at the
Reserve Bank - 24c in today's money. My mother's half crown would be equivalent
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