What about Debt Relief?
Christian money teaching about debt relief has become a significant topic in Christian churches as more and more Christians struggle with debt, foreclosure, and bad credit. How does Christian debt relate to Christian money teachings about tithing and prosperity?
Money As Rotten Fish
The first answer is that the relationship is complicated. Money is such a complex topic in Christian history. Every church needs money to operate and expects its members to contribute money to pay the bills, pay salaries, and do various charitable good works. At the same time, many churches treat money as if it is rotten fish. Smelly, dirty, and best kept far, far away from sensitive noses. It’s unfair to stereotype churches to cartoon versions of themselves. At the same time, there are conflicting tendencies within churches that lead to dramatically different Christian money teachings.
Alan Wolfe, director of the Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life at Boston College, said the problem for some church members is that “Christianity has always had a complicated relationship with money.”
On the one hand, Wolfe said, believers are told that the love of money is the root of all evil. Then there are those who preach a prosperity gospel, which promotes that God wants believers to have an abundant life with extraordinary financial blessings. Alan Wolfe
And so churches with the idea that “money is rotten fish but we can’t live without it,” operate with a double standard. Money is bad when you have it and spend it on yourself, but money becomes good when you give it to the church, and let the church do God’s work with it.
Tithing is the practice of giving ten percent of your income to the church. Some churches insist that tithing is commanded by God in the Bible. Other churches never mention the idea of tithing, but instead ask people to pledge a certain amount of money during annual stewardship campaigns.
Not surprisingly, the churches that teach tithing as a requirement tend to be churches with more income than churches that treat offerings as a matter of personal convenience.
As a matter of logic, it would seem that the best way for the church to get more money to pay its bills and do what it perceives as its mission is to help people create more wealth so that they will have more to contribute to the church.
If you are going to tell people to tithe, it would be better for the church to get a tenth of $1000 than a tenth of $100, and it would be even better to get a tithe of $100,000 or $1,000,000. The higher the income level within the church, the more money the church would take in from its tithing members.
But logic doesn’t always apply. Christian teaching about money is so highly charged, and laden with so much theological baggage, that churches tend to teach mixed messages about money.
And so it is a strange juxtaposition. You will hear sermons about the evils of having money and sermons about the blessings of giving money. It’s the same money, but when you have it, money is evil. When you give it to the church to for God’s work, money becomes good.
The Missing Piece about Wealth Creation
This is why you will often hear sermons about giving and tithing, but not very many about how to manage your own money to create wealth.
“What we are trying to get over to people is that we have to teach about stewardship the same way we teach about forgiveness,” said the Rev. Kerry A. Hill, president of the Collective Banking Group, a consortium of pastors in Prince George’s and the District who help area churches finance projects. “A lot of pastors agree that we have talked about tithing, and we need to talk about the other 90 percent” Kerry A. Hill
Christian Money Teaching As “Prosperity Gospel”
Obviously, there are many exceptions. Prosperity gospel churches will tell you it is good for you to have money. The prosperity gospel message goes on to teach that one way to ensure that God blesses you with more and more money is for you to give more and more to the church. Prosperity churches often teach financial literacy to their members and take away the stigma of wanting and having money.
So, on the one hand, you have Christian money teaching that money is bad stuff until you give it to the church and Christian money teaching that money is a sign of God’s blessing. The more money you have, the more obviously God has blessed you.
The Rock and the Hard Place of Christian Debt
Between these two extremes, there is the middle ground where most Christians live. And these days, that place is between a rock and a hard place, in an economy that is making many people struggle for money while others grow richer. The rock is rising costs without higher wages, and the hard place is rising debt and tighter credit.
Historically, many Christian churches have helped people in trouble, but most have not taught people how to handle debt. This is changing, as churches are beginning to teach people how to deal with money. And for many Christians, that means learning how to deal with debt.