>God and Money — the Consumer Church

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Was at our bimonthly clergy gathering in Anchorage for lunch today.  It’s always nice, whether we have a book study or some soul-searching or, like today, shoot the breeze.  Our conversation shifted to tithing via credit cards.  Now, I’m well aware of the benefits of this procedure–it’s easy for folks who are used to paying with credit card for everything, it can lead to more regular givers as they set up automatic payments, and there’s a good paper trail for the church.  And, I’m well aware of the problem that many churches have with the whole thing–namely about 3% of the gift gets taken as a finance charge.  You can do the math.  If someone gives $100, only $97 goes to the church or the particular ministry within the church that the giver wanted to give to.  I brought up that I wasn’t too concerned about the 3% charge because I think that’s more than made up for by the more regular giving that can be encouraged.  My problem is, perhaps, 21% finance charge that will be put on any unpaid balance on that credit card.  We have too many people in our churches in too much debt.  Does the church really want to enter into that?

Our God had some choice words to say about this interplay between faith and finances.  After The Parable of the Shrewd Manager in Luke 16, he says:

“No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.”

But we sure try to serve both….

And the relationship between these two, God and money, comes up again.   One of our United Methodist Churches in Anchorage has been doing a very successful Wednesday Night Dinner.  They’ve been very clear.  It’s a time for fellowship and to welcome persons into the church in a non-threatening way.  It’s for community-building.  It’s not for study.  It’s not for worship.  And it’s not a money-maker.  It’s free.  The church didn’t want funding to get in the way of ministry.  So, a free meal is given.  The burden is shared.  The community is blessed because of this.  I would argue that this gift is a good thing.

Then, however, I find this picture over at Michael Toy’s Blog.

According to the author, this is a picture of:  a church, somewhere in America (not important where) which has asked their members to donate stuff, and then on Easter they are giving it all away.  The hope is, the lure of stuff will cause people to come hear a sermon about the free gift of salvation.  And, if only one person accepts Jesus, it will all be worthwhile.  The picture is of the lobby in their church.
Michael Toy has two reactions to this:

  1. Cripes, are you kidding me?  Did anyone ask “wwjd” before they scheduled an orgiastic celebration of consumerism on Easter?  Did they read what Jesus did in the temple?
  2. This is so us, so American, so perfect.  No matter what the problem is, the answer is always contained in consumption. 

Americans, maybe more than anyone else in the world, are “CONSUMERS.”  We consume everything.  We consume more than our “fair share.”  We consume when we’re depressed or happy or bored.  We consume food just because it’s there (I say with latte in front of me at the coffee shop!).  Even after our country was attacked on 9/11 we were directed to the malls to keep American businesses going strong. 

As I go out on a limb and say that providing a free meal on Wednesday nights is “good,” I want to say that that giving away cars is probably “bad.”

We need to find ways to protect ourselves from serving God and Money.  They both demand our allegiance.

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