Sarcasm ahead! Easily offended Evangelicals should not read this post.
The Christian God is quite demanding, according to Evangelical preachers. God demands and expects the best of everything from his followers. Never mind the fact that God allegedly owns and controls everything right down the hairs on our heads. He still demands that Christians bow in fealty to him and bestow upon him everything they own and have worked for. According to Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) eschatology, Christians will be judged by their works on Judgment Day and rewarded with crowns for their good works. A lifetime of slaving for Jesus, and all Christians get are tinplate crowns made in China? And even then, God expects believers to remove their crowns from their heads, joyfully, reverently casting them at his feet. What’s God’s going to go with all these crowns, anyway? Sell them on eBay?
For those raised in Evangelical churches, how many times did you hear sermons about giving God your best? Jesus died on the cross for our sins! If Jesus gave his ALL for us, shouldn’t we give our ALL to him? Our thoughts, words, and deeds, all belong to Jesus! This life is just preparation for the life to come. Giving everything to God now means he will reward us after death! Or so preachers say, anyway. No evidence for this claim is forthcoming. You are just going to have to take them at their word. But let’s, for a moment, take the non-inspired, errant, fallible Bible at face value. What awaits Christians after the resurrection of the just and unjust? Sure, no more pain, sickness, or death. But that aside, I am not sure Heaven (the eternal kingdom of God) will be such a great place to live for millions and millions of years. What will Christians spend their endless days doing? Worshiping, praising, and glorifying the universe’s ultimate narcissist, God. God demanded everything from his followers in this life, and he does the same in the life to come. Come on, Jesus, when is enough enough? Can’t believers have a toke of marijuana out back of the throne room with Peter or share a few off-color jokes with John? Must believers forgo the joys of human existence all because he who has EVERYTHING wants more? I am starting to think Hell is a far better destination. Satan didn’t ask anything of me in this life, and I heard from a reliable source, Christopher Hitchens, that Hell is quite the party. Sure, Hell is a bit warm in July, but hanging out with Hitch and other atheists at Beelzebub’s Bar and Grill seems preferable to neverending worship of Jehovah.
This notion of God deserving the best of everything has real-world implications. Instead of Christians focusing on life and enjoying the fruits of their labor, they are expected to hand their pay and the title of their property to God. How does this transfer of wealth take place? On Sundays, at Evangelical churches everywhere. Congregants are expected to tithe, give offerings, and give money to whatever project the pastor cooks up. Church members are reminded that all they have belongs to God, that he is just loaning it to them, subject to call at any moment. Christians are conned into believing that nothing they own belongs to them. Cue the song, All to Jesus I Surrender, All to Him I Freely Give.
Churches are, at their base level, membership clubs. I don’t have a problem with churches expecting members to pay their dues. However, it is not uncommon for Christians to give 10-25 percent of their gross income to their churches. In the IFB churches, we had numerous income streams: tithes (10% of gross income), building fund offerings, and faith promise missionary offerings, along with special offerings collected for guest speakers, evangelists, and singing groups. And then there were special projects that needed funding, often requiring thousands of dollars. Pastors think the church needs this or that, so they go to their congregations and ask them to cough up the money. “God is leading us to do __________! preachers say. Over the twenty-five years I spent in the ministry, I raised money for everything from pews to building refurbishments to copiers to buses. While some of these projects were certainly worthwhile, at what point do preachers stop bleeding church members for more money? If the early church could meet in homes or outside, can’t modern churches do the same? Surely, you jest, Bruce. God needs the best of everything! And that includes lighting and AV equipment. One local megachurch took up residence at the Defiance Mall. God “led” the pastor and other church leaders to install $100,000 of state-of-the-art AV equipment. Nice set-up, to say the least, but where did this money come from? Church members.
Bruce, shouldn’t Christians be free to give as much money as they want to their clubs? Sure. We live in a free society. We are free to spend our money as we wish. My objection is to what drives giving in Evangelical churches: the idea that God deserves the best of everything. How do Evangelical preachers know what God wants? How do they know that God only shops at Saks Fifth Avenue? You see, when I read the Bible, I see a God (Jesus) who is more of a Walmart shopper. If Christians are to follow Jesus’ example, how does that comport with the notion that God deserves the best of everything; that church buildings should be temples of capitalistic splendor? And this is not just an Evangelical problem. One need only look at mainline and Catholic church buildings to see glaring testimonies to the belief that God deserves the very best. If Jesus is the example, it seems evident, at least to me, that most Christians are not paying attention.
Further, I have a big problem with preachers who manipulate church members with claims that God spoke to them, telling them that to receive his blessing God wants new $30 a square yard carpeting for the sanctuary. Churches should be focused on meeting congregant needs and ministering to the sick, poor, and marginalized, and not building an opulent palace for a deity who supposedly already owns everything.
People who wholeheartedly love Jesus are bled dry by such thinking. People give even when they don’t have the means to do so. Their pastors encourage them to have faith or sow mustard seeds for God. Matthew 17:20 says:
. . . verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.
NOTHING SHALL BE IMPOSSIBLE FOR YOU, shouts the pastor. On his last show on 700-WLW, Gary Burbank — my all-time favorite comedian — said this:
The Little Radio Church of the White Winged Gospel Truth is in the air. Flock, as it sayeth in the Book of Hominominies, not your old testament, not your new testament, but your present testament, writ by me, the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away, ‘cause the Lord likes to mess with us. Can I get an “Amalulah!”? Now the Lord is taking Gary Burbank – not calling him home, just getting’ him off the radio. I’m going to need some love offerings soon before my radio pulpit goes away. So reach into them jeans and pull out some greens. Fly them rockets from thy pockets up around my altar. Don’t make me holler, don’t make me shout. Turn them pockets inside out.
The only difference between when Burbank acted out this script and the present is that Evangelical preachers now have MasterCard, Visa, and PayPal for extracting money from congregants. Imagine a cash strapped congregant at First Church of the Born Again hearing his pastor’s plea for money to fund new equipment for the praise and worship band. This devout Christian, feeling the “leading” of the Lord — also known as psychological manipulation — goes online and maxes out his credit card for the Lord. His pastor praises him for heeding God’s voice. And then the first credit card bill comes. For the next five years, this God-led Christian will be paying off his donation monthly with 24.99% interest. Ain’t God awesome?
Did your pastors pressure you or your parents to give money to the church? Please share your experiences in the comment section.
Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.
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