Boycotting Bad Religion - Part 1
"No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money." - Jesus (Matthew 6:24)
If power is a hallmark of religion, then the institution of the Church is the means by which religion executes it's so-called 'God-ordained' dominion over the earth. But one key component is missing in this simple equation: money. The faithful's 'tithes and offerings', and the Church's Divinely mandated responsibility to receive these 'gifts to God', is the economic engine of religion. If such is the case, it is high time to financially boycott the Church.
Let me preface the rest of what I share here by saying that I'm going to focus on the religion I am most familiar with, that being American Evangelicalism. Some of you come from other traditions under the broader umbrella of Christianity or entirely different religions all-together. I leave it to you to apply this to your own context. I'm going to pick on the community I know best.
the classic shell game
Like a classic shell game, champions of preserving and expanding religious institutions and their ever-expanding sway over life love to use a little rhetorical sleight of hand wherein giving to the Church becomes synonymous with giving to God. "But Kirt, are you suggesting we 'rob God'!? What about Malachi 3:8-10?" Well first of all, proof-texting the Bible to emotionally manipulate ordinary people of faith is just going to piss me off, so don't go there.
Secondly, if you have been following my writings on 'Faith versus Religion' you have likely picked up on the fact that the old saying that, 'The Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it!", doesn't hold any authority over me anymore. Even with that said, for the sake of those who still hold conservative views of the Bible and who are active members in an Evangelical church, let's look at a Scripture and apply a little common moral sense.
god brings out the whoopin' stick
I have written previously about how the Evangelical Church in America is overrun with worshipping the false idols of nationalism and consumerism, just to name a few. This has led to a sickening apathy where evangelicals, particularly of the white and suburban kind, can carry on their Sunday dog and pony shows while providing, for example, blanket political support to a President who is advancing greed and abusing the poor and suffering on an unprecedented scale.
Then enters the first chapter of the book of Isaiah, where God, to borrow from Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson in his WWE days, lays the smack-down on the candy-ass of God's people. Here I quote at length (1:10-17):
Hear the word of the Lord,
You rulers of Sodom;
Give ear to the instruction of our God,
You people of Gomorrah.
“What are your multiplied sacrifices to Me?”
Says the Lord.
“I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams
And the fat of fed cattle;
And I take no pleasure in the blood of bulls, lambs or goats.
“When you come to appear before Me,
Who requires of you this trampling of My courts?
“Bring your worthless offerings no longer,
Incense is an abomination to Me.
New moon and sabbath, the calling of assemblies—
I cannot endure iniquity and the solemn assembly.
“I hate your new moon festivals and your appointed feasts,
They have become a burden to Me;
I am weary of bearing them.
“So when you spread out your hands in prayer,
I will hide My eyes from you;
Yes, even though you multiply prayers,
I will not listen.
Your hands are covered with blood.
“Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean;
Remove the evil of your deeds from My sight.
Cease to do evil,
Learn to do good;
Reprove the ruthless,
Defend the orphan,
Plead for the widow.
It should be abundantly clear from the theme of this passage, which is repeatedly driven home by the prophets throughout Scripture, that the mere idea of receiving an offering on Sunday morning while a church cowardly turns a blind eye to injustice, is of the highest offense to the God of the Bible.
two reasons to not tithe
So let's assume your church has embraced hypocrisy as bliss, but for whatever reason you have chosen to keep attending. Let me share two reasons on why you should stop tithing. For one, if I'm faced with a choice between a) giving a portion of my paycheck to 'keep the church lights on' and pay the salary of church staff who have chosen to preserve their job over actually spiritually leading their people versus b) contributing to an established and effective charity that is actually advancing justice and providing critical relief to those suffering in this world, well...it's kind of a no-brainer. Sometimes I feel deep pangs of regret, like Liam Neeson depicted in Schindler's List, as I ponder how many people might have received life-saving aid through an organization that was partially resourced by the tens of thousands of dollars that I instead gave to sustaining a religious club called 'the local church'.
Secondly, if you are still holding out hope for some reform and revival in your church, then you need to understand and apply the principle of what Martin Luther King Jr. called 'economic withdrawal'. While it might not be the highest motivation for change, the quickest way to effect reform within the institution of the Church is to inflict a little pain at the plate. Churches that were all about standing on their conservative 'biblical' values and principles get mighty pragmatic when the money stops rolling in. Hopefully their heart will follow later. Important note: Make sure you connect with others who are choosing to financially boycott your church and then collectively let your lead pastor know of your decision. It will help expedite to church leadership's decision to 'reflect' upon how God uses 'new wine-skins' (Mark 2:22).
what do you benefit if...
Ralph Waldo Emerson once famously said that, "Money often costs too much." This is so true when money becomes the end or the means to the wrong end. I would argue that tithing to a church that has lost sight of the true end of faith is to enable its journey to a spiritual dead-end. And so we might give a new twist to an old question that Jesus asked: And what is the benefit if you give to a church that has lost its own soul? (Mark 8:36) Though viewed as being disobedient to the Bible and disrespectful of those leaders God has placed 'over' you, withholding your tithes and offerings might end up being one of the most compassionate things you can do for your fellow congregants and a world in genuine need.
In Part 2, we turn to address the whole universe of ancillary institutions or 'para-church' organizations of the evangelical world and conclude with my recommendations on which ones I think evangelicals should financially cut off.