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Money + Church

I’ve been mulling over money and church for some time now. Actually, I have been not-mulling this around for a long time. I don’t like to think about money, and I don’t like to talk about money and church.

I know that there are churches that take advantage of people and wrongly exploit their resources. This is bad. It’s even worse when these churches’ congregations have limited resources. But that’s pretty much all I can say about bad churches. They exist, they are the worst.

I know that some people think that giving to church or organized religion in general is flat-out dumb. They wonder what services a pastor or priest really provides and question if that money could be put to better use. It probably could–who am I to say?–but as long as you are of sound mind and your family is on board, I say do with your money what you like. Giving to a church is undoubtedly better than smoking crack.

I have not verified this.

The hole in this argument is that sometimes churches are less than transparent; the Catholic church used some portion of my money to cover up their terrible terrible scandals. Mars Hill used some of its funds to buy Mark Driscoll some book reviews. I am zen about this, but I don’t think you have to be. Once the money is out of my hands, I try not to think about it.

Research is key. I don’t think it’s wise to write out a check to every church you visit. Especially if, God forbid, they ask you to on the first day–tacky at best. But when I joined Valley and Mountain, I visited for a few weeks, talked to a few people and made some friends, drank an iced tea with the pastor, and read about them on their website. They seemed legit. So I started giving money to them.

I have not given money to a church since I hung out with the Catholics, aside from a few dollars here and there on random Sundays. I didn’t give money at Restoration because I didn’t want there to be a conflict of interest–journalists never pay their subjects. But when I stumbled upon Valley and Mountain, I wanted to join in, even if I didn’t know where every single dollar of my money would be going. I wanted to support the community.

Valley and Mountain is a super-transparent church. I know that my money is going to help run the Collaboratory, buy food for our weekly meals, support the pastor and his family, and help people in the community. It funds activism: protests, speakers, whatever else we come up with. I don’t know, for example, whether it’s buying a latte or heat for the winter, but I trust everyone in the community enough to use our collective resources wisely. They are human and of course not everything will be a stellar, life-giving purchase, but that’s fine.

I’m not an outside observer, the way I tried to be at Restoration. I’m invested, literally and figuratively. I want Valley and Mountain to stick around for a long time, and this is one way I can help it.

In church, people have been talking about money a lot lately, first because there was a pledge drive and now because the holidays are coming up. They talk about how it’s freeing to give away money, how it forces you to be more responsible. It is once again creepily (that is the only word that seems apt for money-related matters) similar to how the leaders in Restoration talked about tithing. I have heard testimonies in both places about people giving despite difficult circumstances, and what a blessing it is. One woman gives even though she is a single mother, unemployed. Another woman gives ten percent of her income, pre-tax, even though she is raising three kids and two foster kids with her husband.

I am always torn when I hear these stories. It doesn’t feel “good” to me to give money away. I would much rather buy myself some lattes. It doesn’t feel freeing–it feels stressful until I stop thinking about it and I get used to it, and then I don’t care. I actively don’t think about it.

I realized while I was trying to write this that I don’t have any clear feelings about money at all, aside from how I prefer to spend and not spend it. I have methods for spending my money, but I don’t have a philosophy behind it. I don’t have a way of thinking about it. Do you guys have any books on this? Any resources you might suggest?

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