The Presbyterian Pulpit
A sermon by the Rev. Dr. David E. Leininger

A CONTRARIAN VIEW OF GIVING

Delivered 10/31/04
Text: I Timothy 6:6-10; II Corinthians 9:6-15
To read endnotes, click on the the note number, then click on the to return to your place in the text.

Years ago someone said that the preacher's task is to "Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable." Admittedly, this time of the year in Christian churches - the time when conversation turns to money and budgets and stewardship - is uncomfortable for some folks. So we need balance. If you are feeling afflicted these days - reading about money matters in FIRST PRESs, getting letters from congregational leaders about the financial help needed for next year, knowing that Consecration Sunday is two weeks away - I want to offer a modicum of comfort. To be sure, as our lessons make obvious, we are thinking about giving this morning. But I want to take a different tack...a contrarian view, if you will...for the comfort of those of you who feel UNcomfortable about the church asking for money and would like some ammunition to defend your position...some thoughts (satirical though they may be) on why NOT to support the church. This morning, WITH TONGUE PLANTED FIRMLY IN CHEEK, I will give you some things to ease your conscience. Perhaps. Take notes if you like.

First of all, you can say I do not support the church because I am not really convinced that there is much need for what it teaches. I believe that moral and ethical education is best left to the schools. In their formative years, children are best served by teachers with credentials who are competent to teach them the requisite moral values of our society. Further, with such excellent TV programs as Sesame Street, Mr. Rogers, the Simpsons, South Park, Saturday morning cartoons, and even professional wrestling with its emphasis on fair play and the ultimate triumph of good over evil, they are learning all they need to know about moral and ethical behavior.

In addition, we have always had adequate models for our youth to emulate in the ranks of professional athletes and rock `n' roll stars - even Madonna's NAME comes from Christian tradition. Just because some stars choose names like Smash Mouth or Barenaked Ladies or Old Dirty Bastard should not turn us off - the choice is an attention-getting device, not something we should presume reflects inappropriate values. These people represent the highest and best of current culture, sportsmanship, business sense, and personal conduct. Our youngsters do not need all these ancient Bible stories that are very often confusing anyway.

I do not support my church because there is no need for any voice calling for ethical standards in national life. I trust our elected officials to show the way. The President, of course, is our national role model. Granted, our presidents have been known to have a lapse or two, but boys will be boys; overall, their conduct has been exemplary. Congress, for its part, has a code that typifies the highest standards expected of anyone, and ALL of our Senators and Representatives adhere to it. They have even exempted themselves from job discrimination requirements and sexual harassment regulations because they CONSISTENTLY uphold the highest possible standards ANYWAY. These are fine folks who are attacked unfairly. Here in Warren County, we have always had Commissioners and School Board members who consistently demonstrated the highest standards for political discourse. We can proudly hold our politicians up as paradigms for our youth and for ourselves.

Frankly, all the professions have ethical standards that are more than adequate. The American Bar Association, for example, has a code to which ALL attorneys adhere, and I fully trust their integrity. Similarly, the AMA assures me that physicians are governed by the highest ethical standards and they ALL abide by them. Indeed, with only the rarest exception, we all know that the primary interest of these skilled and dedicated lawyers and doctors is to insure that the community is served - they could care less about making money. There is no need for the church to stick its nose into their affairs.

I do not support my church because I think families are well served by professional marriage counselors and public school personnel. We do not need any more programs designed to promote family unity than already exist. Churches just foul things up. Young couples do not have time for church anyway.

I do not support my church because it spends inordinate resources in taking care of people who are best left to themselves. There is no reason for ministers to take time going to see old folks in hospitals or nursing homes. They are no longer of any use to themselves or society. All they are is a drain. Just because they were worth something in years past is no reason to think that they are worth anything now. If they are no longer making any significant contribution to society, they have no right to expect anything from anybody. I do not OWE them anything for what they did in the past; I should not be expected to support misguided attempts at worthless compassion.

I do not support my church because it is always getting involved in controversy. Whether it has to do with migrant workers' rights, racial or gender discrimination, war or what have you, the church has no business trying to influence our government in these matters. We have officials who are more than competent to do these things all by themselves, and they do a wonderful job.

Speaking of issues, I am tired of the mainline church continually attacking the second amendment to our Constitution with its advocacy of more odious gun laws. As Charlton Heston (Moses himself!) has noted in testimony before Congress, we already have more than 22,000 gun laws on the books around this nation, and as the bumper stickers clearly point out, "When guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns." Granted, the occasional isolated incidents like Columbine High School, and so on, are unfortunate. But, as they say, if you are going to make an omelette, you have to break some eggs. If we occasionally lose some folks, that is the price we have to pay for maintaining our constitutionally-guaranteed freedom. The church should butt out and shut up.

I do not support my church because the government does all that is necessary to insure justice and fairness in our community. The church should stop meddling. Leave these things to the city council or the mayor or the police department or the judges. We know very well that all these folks are totally unselfish and would never cover up internal wrongdoing when it comes to making sure everyone in our society is treated with dignity and respect.

I do not support my church because the agencies of our national government do all that is necessary to assist people in Third World countries. Our foreign aid is generous. We already send food and money. We certainly do not need agencies from the church piddling in the affairs of places like the Sudan or Rwanda or especially Iraq.

I do not support my church because the money people give there is wasted anyway. They pay ministers huge salaries for working an hour a week. They spend money for choir directors and organists who do nothing more than any willing volunteer could handle. They pay for custodians to maintain the physical plant, but volunteers could handle that each week. Me? No. I do not have time. Besides my work, I have other commitments at my club, but I know there are plenty of folks who DO have time, so this is money that does not have to be spent!

Frankly, if I were to give to support anything religious, it would go to those dedicated servants of God who have had the foresight and drive to concentrate their ministries on television. They do a better job in handling money. I could pick any of them, but Pat Robertson is as good an example as any. Over the course of years, Pat built a powerful empire through the generous gifts of thousands of individuals around the nation. He parlayed those gifts into a television outreach called the Family Channel that became so attractive that Rupert Murdock and the Fox network bought it in 1997 for $1.9-billion.(1) Of those proceeds, Pat and his son Tim (who had been installed as president of the corporation) kept, if I recall correctly, some $170-million for themselves. As might be expected, the busy-bodies in the church complained that this was highly unethical, but, PISH-TOSH! Sounds to me like smart business. This Robertson knows what he is doing when it comes to money. THERE is someone who deserves my support.

In contrast, the Presbyterian Church (USA) General Assembly mission budget last year was just under $125-million. With those dollars, the church supported ten seminaries, 73 colleges and secondary schools, hundreds of fraternal workers and missionaries, countless health or welfare related institutions (such as hospitals, nursing and retirement homes) and projects in every synod and presbytery. In addition, these funds provided famine relief, resettlement of refugees, programs of self-development at home and overseas, and resources for more effective ministry and worship in 11,000 congregations across the land.(2) As the figures clearly indicate, the church has no idea how to handle the money it has. It obviously tries to support too many things with the dollars available with the result that very little is accomplished.

I do not support my local church because I do not feel it is MINE anyway. I only really need it for the occasional baptism, marriage, or funeral...hatching, matching, and dispatching...so there is no real need for it to keep its doors ALWAYS open. I realize that the phone company asks me to pay a certain amount for a telephone each month whether I use it or not, and the cable TV costs the same each month whether I turn the set on or not, and the electric company and water company have me pay a minimum charge no matter what. But the church is different. I want it to be there when I want it. When I need it, I do not mind paying a few dollars for those services, but for me to pay for the services that everyone ELSE gets is absolutely unfair.

I do not support my church because it is always harping about generosity. I am convinced that the sentimental hogwash we get at Thanksgiving, Christmas, Pledge time, and so on has done as much harm to this nation as anything ever. The church has created the impression that we somehow OUGHT to help those less fortunate than ourselves. That is absurd. Just because I had the benefit of being born into a family that could afford to feed and clothe and educate me does not mean I should support those who did not have those benefits - it is not MY fault they didn't. I am not my brother's keeper.

To be honest, I think that Soup Kitchens, Clothes Closets, shelters for the homeless, and the like send the wrong kind of message. If someone really wants food or clothing or a roof over their head, they can get it the old fashioned way - EARN IT! If they do not work, they should not eat! If a young mother wants to stay home to take care of her babies instead of going out and earning a living, that is her decision. If a father loses his job and does not immediately take something else (dish washing, day labor, or whatever), then he and his family deserve to starve. If the kids go hungry because the parents are not working, too bad. That is not my fault.

I do not support my church because I do not believe in evangelism. I do not believe that we should try to influence people concerning matters of faith. We all know that it does not matter what people believe, as long as they are sincere. I know. Yada, yada, yada. Yes, Osama Bin Laden and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi are surely sincere in their beliefs, but they are an aberration and should not enter into this discussion.

I do not support my church because it raises funds in the wrong way. All this talk about, "The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil" and "more blessed to give than to receive" is foolishness. Anyone with any sense knows it is better and far more fulfilling to GET than to GIVE. Giving NEVER makes anyone feel good. If there is any organization that ought to be honest, it is the church. The church is not honest, and I have trouble supporting anything that would lie to me.

But there is more to it than that. I do not support my church or any organization that TELLS me what I am expected to give. I resent the church saying that a tithe, ten percent off the top of my income, is the appropriate standard. Giving by percentage is unfair, because that means the more I make, the more I would have to give. I realize that the government does it that way, and I pay my taxes on that basis, whether I like it or not. But that should not be surprising. To be honest, the IRS worries me more than God does.

By the way, all this talk about RETURNING to God a set portion of what I have is tommyrot. The money I have, I EARNED - God had nothing to do with it. As far as all this about God giving me the talent, the ability, and the health to get what I have - well, I guess so; but that does not mean I owe God anything for that. That was God's job. God SHOULD have done that, just because I am a good person.

I refuse to support my church because they ask me to commit myself ahead of time to a certain amount that I would anticipate giving. That is absurd. NO ONE should expect me to do that. I know that I have always expected my employers to tell me what they would pay me so I could plan my budget. I know that the bank expects that I tell them how much I will pay when I finance a home or a car - after all, what kind of organization would let me get away with saying I will pay what I can, when I can, IF I can? But the church is different. For my church to ask me to help plan it's finances for the coming year is ridiculous. After all, if I actually write down what I plan to give, I might be expected to give it, and I would rather have the freedom to drop a dollar or two in the plate or not if I feel like it. Forget OFF THE TOP; this would ONLY be if I have anything left over.

I do not support my church because there are others here who are in a much better position than I am to do it. Those who have plenty of money should pay the bills. People like me ought not be expected to give. I know that to meet the church budget my wife and I should set aside our proportionate per member share, but I would rather let someone else give mine and my family's. I realize that this puts me in the position of being on religious welfare, letting someone else pick up my tab, and I hate that in any other area of life, but where the church is concerned, I do not mind.

Finally, down to the nitty-gritty. I do not support my church because I would rather spend my money in other ways. I have so many other financial commitments that to add one more would be the straw that broke the camel's back. I have a house to pay for, two cars to run, clothes to buy, groceries to get, medical expenses, insurance, club dues, vacations, and a little bit for entertainment. If I put anything much in the offering plate, I would hardly be able to afford the Sunday brunch at the club after the worship each week. I cannot afford to support the church because I need to spend that money on me.

"Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable," eh? Well, I HAVE felt pretty uncomfortable lately with reading and hearing again about money and tithing. The church does not deserve my support. Let us leave education to the educators, government to the politicians, equal justice under law to the courts and the police, role models for our youth to athletes and entertainers, and matters of faith to each individual conscience. Ultimately...I do not support my church because the world does not need Jesus Christ.

Shocked? Lord, I hope so!

Amen!


1. http://apocalypse.berkshire.net/~ifas/fw/9809/empire.html

2. Figures from the PCUSA web site, http://www.pcusa.org

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