You perhaps have seen by now the winner of the 2011 Project Reason video contest, a piece entitled The New Tithe:
Mega-churches have used religion as fund-raising tool for too long. They shower their followers in sanctimonious platitudes, then clamor for their cash. This video encourages a new definition of tithing by giving to causes with accountability.
A few thoughts, and then a modest counterproposal:
- I admit it. I like the video. I think much of it is absolutely true. (Up to about the 2:08 mark, anyway.) As Generous Church notes, 97% of the money donated to churches is spent on those who give it. That’s not good, and we Christians should be publicly spanked for that. The New Tithe video is a well-done spanking. (Well, up to 2:08, anyway.)
- At the 2:08 mark, the video begins to tumble unceremoniously off a cliff with its assertion, “You don’t need church to give.” Instead, the video suggests, give to “causes with accountability.” As those of us who have worked with “causes” for many years try to stifle our amusement at the idea of nonprofits being regarded as bastions of programmatic and financial accountability, the video proceeds to list of representative causes. One of these is “Yoga”. Yoga?
- Questions of religion aside, what the video overlooks is that causes have historically made very poor accountability agents (see “fox guarding henhouse”). This is why giving circles continue to soar in popularity. And churches have the potential to become the best giving circles–and accountability agents–of all. Well, once we stop spending 97% of our money on ourselves.
So we offer a modest counterproposal to The New Tithe–one we practice in the .W church plant we started in January in Colorado Springs and Seoul. We wrote about our own “New Tithe” earlier this year in a post entitled Don’t Wait for the Government to Repeal the Charitable Tax Deduction; Instead, Repeal it Personally:
Rather than taking an offering each Sunday, we as a congregation prepare to make our offering once a month, on the last Sunday of each month. A month’s preparation has a way of keeping the offering from being a tip for services rendered (literally).
But what I’m most excited about with regard to our offering is that each member commits to offering a tithe, of which 30 percent is given to the church (with a third going to the church, a third going to our denomination’s regional conference, and a third going to the denomination) and 70 percent is consecrated at the altar…and then immediately received back again by each member, to be disbursed personally by that member as the church’s minister within his or her own sphere of influence.
70 percent of the tithe, in other words, is not tax deductible because it doesn’t go through the church. It’s consecrated at the altar and then given directly by the church member to those to whom the members learn to personally minister. (Training in giving embedded in service is a key part of what the church program is all about, even for the congregation’s children. Giving and serving should be done by the family jointly, after all.)
Forget giving to causes with accountability. Instead, distribute your philanthropy directly and personally, and meet monthly to be held accountable by others doing the same thing, in order to ensure that your giving really is making a difference.
For Christian and non, that is truly The New Tithe.
In 2 Corinthians St. Paul preaches a sermon where he comments that King David was “faithful to his generation.” I wonder what will be written about the Christian leaders of today? Bad theology has bad consequences; always has, always will.
And sometimes I suspect we experience the same kinds of bad theology in each generation, just in new guises!
Thanks for checking in, Fr. Barnabas.