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Photo: Getty Images
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SocietyJuly 29, 2018

Sunday morning stickup: How tithing exploits the poor

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

When struggling families are being forced to take out loans to survive, they shouldn’t also be pressured to give money to their church, writes Aaron Hendry.

Last week Manukau Ward Councillor Efeso Collins horrified us with stories of impoverished families who were being forced to take out loans in order to make ends meet, as a result of giving tithes to their church communities. He spoke of families being publicly shamed for not giving enough, and highlighted the reality that there are some church communities who still demand a tithe even when they know their families cannot afford to give. There is no doubt that this abhorrent practice has to stop.

Collins said we need to have a discussion on this. He’s right. And it should be the Christian community who leads it.

The teachings of Jesus are clear. The church is to be first and foremost concerned with care for the vulnerable and the weak. If a church is aware that their whānau are struggling to make ends meet, yet continues to pressure its members to give, with no concern for how this is contributing to the poverty and debt they are trapped in, then that church has betrayed Jesus.

Jesus stands for the poor. In fact, I would go as far as to say that he stands with them. And in this case, I believe Jesus would be saying, “enough is enough.” Instead of asking those in need for a handout, the church’s role is to be the answer to that need. The church should be standing up and challenging the systems which create poverty, not being one of those systems.

To give, to love, to serve, to provide support where there is none, to be a voice for the voiceless, to speak a message of hope, when hope seems out of reach, this is the work and role of the church. For the Christian, Jesus is the ultimate example of how human beings should live. And Jesus was a man who lived his life in a way which showed care and concern for the most vulnerable. This was the guy who challenged the dehumanizing systems of oppression which kept people trapped in poverty. The dude who, when he saw crowds of hungry people, had compassion on them, and fed them rather then turn them away. He revealed what it meant for all people to live lives which expressed the fullness of our humanity.

Love God, Love others. This is at the very heart of his teaching. Everything else is noise. But how is it loving when you take money from a family who need it? When you line your coffers with money that should really be used to feed the children?

The rhetoric is that if you give, then God will bless you. The idea is that if you give what you have to the church, then God will return it to you with even more than you had before. I wonder how well this is working for the majority of our whānau trapped in cycles of poverty?

No, this sort of preaching and teaching has no place in our country. It is a message which oppresses and traps people by leading them deeper into debt and poverty. Any church that uses this theology in order to exploit vulnerable people has forgotten its mission, and in doing so it has placed itself in opposition to Jesus.

Those who have taught this idea have brought pain and heartache into our communities. They have shown little to no concern for our most vulnerable whānau, and they have benefited from the suffering of those who have placed their trust in them.

It is time the Christian community raised their voice and said: enough is enough. It is time Christians become angry about things that matter. It is time we all followed the example of Jesus, and chose the way of love, and began speaking up for the poor and the vulnerable.

The Salvation Army and Vision West are two great examples of church communities faithfully serving their communities and asking nothing in return. There are many others like them, quietly doing the mahi in the background. But, this is one of those times where their voices need to be heard. Where the combined voice of the Church, needs to reach across to those in its community who are exploiting the vulnerable.

Efeso Collins has laid down the challenge. Those who teach this misguided idea must be challenged.  In love, and with concern for those who are being exploited, church leaders must speak up about this issue. The message that God will bless you in proportion to what you give is one that leads to oppression and entrenches vulnerable people in cycles of poverty.

We cannot allow it to continue.

The Church shouldn’t wait for government to take note of this issue. Nor should they wait for council to begin this discussion. Christians should lead the charge in calling it out for what it is. A horrendous distortion of the Gospel. A tool which has been used to exploit vulnerable people. A twisting of Jesus’ message, and a rejection of the Good News Jesus preached.

Jesus’ message was one of freedom to the poor and the oppressed. When church communities part ways with this sort of theology, they no longer stand with God. They oppose Him.

Many church communities already reject this distortion of Christianity. But simply rejecting this doctrine is not enough. The church must also raise Her voice in support of those families who are suffering because of it.

Collins has highlighted the damage this is doing in our communities. If the church is to stay true to the teachings of Jesus, they must send a message to those in our community who would use His name to exploit the vulnerable amongst us.

It is time for a change.

It is time for exploitative tithing practices to end.

It is time we put a stop to it.

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