Sunday, June 12, 2022

Set Aside Tithing

One of the common suggestions to regular churchgoers is to tithe to their church. A tithe is based on a biblical notion that 10% of one's income (harvest) is to be given to God directly off the top. It is a commonly used "goal" suggested when churches do annual pledge drives for the church budget. It is an idea that is as old as the Bible itself. The Christian Church adopted the tithe early in its history, and it continues today in most denominations. Many denominations teach that the tithe is the minimum level of giving expected, with other offerings considered over and above the tithe. I'm going to argue that it is time for the Church to lose the idea and word. 

Through time, the tithe has been intertwined with some of the less Christ-like manifestations of the Church. The Crusades against Muslims in the first few centuries of the Church, for example, were funded by tithes. Tithing was, in essence, a tax extracted by the church around suggestions (or, in some cases, demands) that a person's salvation (from hell) depended on satisfying their tithe. Economically, slavery declined at the tail-end of the Roman Empire, being replaced by feudalism. The aristocracy held the major portion of wealth. While feudalism was a modest step up for the typical family, their "wealth" was marginally held in superficial (and tenuous) rights to the land, not in cash. The Church could use guilt, fear of the hereafter, and persuasion to get the parishioners to give, but if you don't have it, you don't. This is where the Church became more transactional in its approach to giving. Indulgences, a transactional system of tit-for-tat, augmented tithing. "We'll pray your sin away for a small fee." "For an offering of gold or silver, we will ensure your loved one will not have to spend eternity in purgatory or hell." To our modern mind, we might wonder just how gullible were people? Yet, in pre-science cultures, fear brought by superstition and belief in a wrathful God can be intense, and in truth, the hierarchies of the Church weren't that shy about exploiting theologies of God's wrathfulness. 

Because of this historical baggage, the Church would do well to walk away from and bury the term "tithing." No amount of money will "save you" or put you in any stronger position with God than the infinite amount of love God already has for you. One cannot buy more infinity. For churches to say, "Give us a tithe,(just because we've always done it that way,") is a morally bankrupt idea. If the church can't be better at inspiring hope and a vision for a radically different world than we are experiencing, they do not need a block of money just to keep a building standing!

In the book of Acts, we glimpse a more egalitarian hope-filled vision of Church life. We see the communal understanding of the Church. Church is where we find belonging. It is where we can work together to expand and implement the foundational experiences of God's/Jesus' intent for humankind. Utilizing an ethic of Equality in Love, together, people can build the Realm of God on earth. This is not a church built on guilt or arm twisting or fear. It is built on the expectation that my neighbor is part of my family and that working together, we can accomplish much more in this life than any of us can achieve alone. So, giving to the church is giving to our community, which increases our effective outreach to make a difference in the world we find ourselves in. All will benefit intrinsically and extrinsically. The degree to which your passion for that evolving vision grows should be the primary driver for how much you want to contribute, not whether the church hits a set budget number or how much you worry about a non-existent hell. The only hells exist in what human beings do to one another, largely due to the generational trauma imposed for hundreds of years on our families and psyches that nobody - including the Church - has dealt with in a compassionate, understanding, healing way. This is a large part of the work sitting in our laps, waiting to be done.

So, rather than expecting blank checks with "tithe" written on the memo line, let us transform our idea of giving to the church into being an investment in our "Beloved House of Belonging."

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