Sunday, 21 October 2012

Thought Picnic: The Love of Money in the Church


Money and the church
Two articles over the last 24 hours seem to have brought into focus a crisis of confidence in the way church finances are being gathered and consequently disposed of.
There is a wider issue here and I dare say it is somewhat bordering on endemic and you will appreciate that view in a moment.
First, it was the way demands were being made to engage in a partnership commitment with the church the scriptural basis of which is no doubt suspect but the arguments put forth by the writer makes a compelling case for serious reflection. [NigeriansTalk – Casino Pentecostalism – Ebenezer Obadare]
Scandal in Britain
Then a news story in a UK tabloid suggested worshippers in the UK were being fleeced to maintain a situation in Nigeria. The story stated 73% of offerings contributed in the UK went off-shore and it was not clear if this funding was a primary charity activity undertaken by the UK church or the moneys were just been extracted for the ministry of the church leader. It included calls for a Charity Commission investigation. [Daily Mail -Laughing on his private jet - the £93m pastor accused of exploiting British worshippers]
Back in 2004, it was the second largest Pentecostal church in Britain that was involved in a multi-million pound scandal. [Rick Ross - Scandal in the second biggest Pentecostal church in Britain.] In 2005, it was the turn of the largest Pentecostal church in Britain being investigated for financial irregularities that have not been fully resolved yet. [The Telegraph - 'Wealth' church leader practised what he preached.]
Evangelicals tainted globally
Out in the United States, it was a Senate inquiry into the finances of 6 televangelists. [USA Today - Televangelists escape penalty in Senate inquiry.] In Ukraine, the biggest church there has been embroiled in a serious financial scandal too on a failed business venture that frittered away about $100 million. [Christian Today - Ukraine: Megachurch pastor in business scandal.]
Over in Singapore another megastar preacher with a superstar wife and all the accoutrements of amazing wealth was arrested on suspicions of false accounting. [Singapore News - City Harvest's founder Kong Hee, four others arrested.] Then a more bizarre case in Canada where congregants were left out of pocket by reason of “affinity fraud” that gained support from the church leaders. [The Vancouver Sun - Evangelical church in $14-million financial scandal.]
Practice lagging doctrine
All the citations above are not so much to castigate any of the organisations, many of the issues are still sub judice but this calls for serious comment and I am sure this is just a subset of a larger issue with regards to churches of this type.
I mean type because all these churches, ministries and the ministers that run them identify as evangelical and/or Pentecostal and they seem to all have similar teachings based around what is commonly known as the Prosperity Gospel.
There is scriptural basis for this slant of teaching but its projection and expression leaves much to be desired. One finds that these wealthy preachers are not modest and reserved in their show of riches that it is unbecoming, vulgar, hedonistic, ostentatious, bragging and almost evil.
Room for grave error
It excites covetousness and greed; believers are led to believe that a bartering and exchange system exists between God and man short of saying they have to pay God for blessings of health and prosperity. An objective reading of the first reference in this blog could easily imply this and it is dangerous presaging a slippery slope into error where the love of money sets people up for being agents of evil.
However, that is a different matter; the most critical issue is that these church leaders are not doing much to offer a transparent and sombre reflection such that we are found in debates about excess and abuse rather than being profitably engaged in preaching the gospel.
On the wrong side of controversy
I am saddened that many have confused the kind of controversy they are supposed to excite that should make outsiders curious about Christianity rather than being critical of practising Christians.
Churches, church organisations and leaders of such establishments should be the vanguard of probity, rectitude, accountability, transparency, honesty, clarity, responsibility and trustworthiness. It is disgraceful and beneath contempt and well as contemptuous of the gospel to find churches so remiss in character and honourable conduct.
If the church cannot give good example, the world we seek to change is definitely lost. We find church leaders behaving like new-money types with nothing to separate them from the ostentation and showiness of drug barons or hip-hop artistes. They have become outrageously acquisitive and excused this as proof of God being a rich God.
No sombreness
Then see the really rich people around the world, either scions of genteel old-money or the likes of Bill Gates or Warren Buffett who can buy anything they want but have given themselves to works of stupendous charity and unsurpassed philanthropy that puts literally every other billionaire to shame.
Then you read articles in the Forbes magazine about Richest Pastors in some country and the whole context of the article has nothing to say about the gospel but the personality and the grand lifestyles that are worthy of opprobrium because in all the investigations that I have highlighted the biggest failing of these organisations is no clear separation of ministry finances from personal finances.
In secular organisations, that will be grounds for bringing charges of financial impropriety and possibly fraudulent activity.
Responsibilities matter
Any organisation that collects money by persuasion, inducement, cajoling or proposition from the public even if the said public have willingly subscribed to the project owes the public full accountability as to how the moneys are being spent for whatever reasons along with full justification for such expenditure and where that appears to be lacking they should expect secular government organisations to wade in and sanction bad practice.
It goes without saying that the preachers should repent and change their ways, it stinks to the high heavens and it portends the odium that emanates from the pits of Hades, the Gospel of Jesus Christ has been corrupted into a Gospel of Mammon – it ought not to be so. [Wikipedia - Mammon]
Beyond their responsibilities that matter, perceptions of being completely above board matter the most with the view of not bringing the name of Jesus Christ and the body of the church into disrepute.

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