Let’s Talk About Giving to the Church

Bishop Thomas J. Tobin

So, a man died and went to heaven. He was met at the pearly gates by St. Peter who led him down the golden streets. They passed stately homes and beautiful mansions until they came to the end of the street where they stopped in front of a rundown cabin. “This is where you’ll be living,” St. Peter said. But the man protested and asked St. Peter why he got a simple little hut when so many others were living in mansions. St. Peter replied, “I did the best I could with the money you sent us.”

It seems that the topic of giving money to the church always evokes a variety of emotions – humor, angst, piety and pride. And questions too. Why should I give to the church? How much should I give? What does the church do with all that money? Why do some members stop giving to the church?

First, let’s state the obvious. Every religious denomination depends on the free will contributions of its members to survive, to carry-out its mission. Where else would the church derive its financial resources? At least in this country, the government doesn’t subsidize churches. (Although sometimes the government will enter into a contract with a church to deliver a particular service – affordable housing, or refugee resettlement, for example.)

But the church needs money and we shouldn’t apologize for that. While the church exists for spiritual purposes, it doesn’t run on love alone. It lives and functions in the real world and it needs money to do so.

The obligation of giving to the church and the spiritual rewards for doing so are deeply rooted in the Bible. The concept of tithing is as old as the Book of Genesis (e.g., Gen 14:19-20). The practice of tithing occurs frequently in the Old Testament. And in the New Testament, Jesus praised the woman who gave to the treasury of the Temple (Mark 12:41-44); the Acts of the Apostles tells us that the faithful placed their resources at the feet of the Apostles (Acts 4:35); and St. Paul regularly takes up collections to assist the poor in other churches.

What motivates people to support the church? Why do you give to the church?

Well, perhaps because you’re proud to be part of the community and you want to do your part. You realize that the church has supported your journey of faith and helped you and your family through some difficult times.

Maybe your giving is an act of faith. You believe in Jesus Christ and the church that he founded. You trust the church and you know that the church uses your money responsibly to support its divine mission – to preach the Gospel, uphold moral values, educate children, and serve the poor.

Maybe your sacrificial giving is motivated by knowing that it finds favor with God, that God will reward your generosity. You are truly mindful of God’s abundant blessings in your life and want to give something back to the Lord.

There are lots of reasons to support the church, and you do so generously, and for that we are profoundly grateful.

But what might cause a person to stop giving to the church, to boycott the work and ministry of the church? There are lots of reasons, or excuses, for that too.

First of all, some people, by nature, just aren’t very generous. Like Ebenezer Scrooge, they’re as “tight as a drum.” They don’t share, they don’t give, they don’t support any charities. (And to be clear – we’re not speaking here of those who really cannot afford to give, who find themselves with limited resources, just trying to survive.)

But beyond that miserly disposition, sometimes members of the church won’t give because they’re alienated by the teachings of the church on particular doctrinal or moral issues – the ordination of women, the evil of abortion, the opposition to gay marriage, social justice ministry, you name it.

Sometimes people drop out and quit giving because of the shameful misconduct of the clergy, or because they feel they’ve been treated poorly by their pastors at critical moments in their lives – at baptisms, weddings or funerals, for example. Perhaps they feel betrayed because their favorite church or school recently closed.

And I know it’s hard to believe, but sometimes the faithful even get angry with their bishop, i.e., me! Perhaps they don’t like something I’ve done, or haven’t done. They think I’m too conservative, or not conservative enough. They don’t appreciate that I’m staunchly pro-life and anti-abortion; that I oppose gay-marriage and the homosexual agenda; that I welcome “illegals” and minister to refugees; or they’ve come to the conclusion that I’m a dishonest, heartless ogre who doesn’t take care of his people.

On occasion, some groups, to promote their own interests, will even organize “boycotts” of the fund-raising efforts of the church. It’s happened here; it’s happened elsewhere. Fortunately, it doesn’t happen very often and when it does it’s usually not terribly effective.

Remember, these quixotic crusades don’t affect the pastor or the bishop, or their job security, salary or benefits. But, in extremis, they would affect the ministry of the church. Those who quit giving because they’re angry – do they want the church to stop educating inner-city children, operating food pantries, providing heating assistance, or offering a safe shelter for the homeless? How cruel! How will that help their cause? Will it make them feel better?

Thanks be to God, the Diocese of Providence is blessed with many faithful members who love God, are grateful for their blessings, are loyal to the church, and want the mission of the church to succeed. They continue to be amazingly generous, in good times and in bad. They know that the money they give to the church is ultimately given to the Lord. And they are confident that the Lord will use their money well, and that someday he’ll provide for them one of the finest mansions in heaven.