I usually avoid TV preachers before church on Sunday. They tend to make me upset rather than encourage me to be more like Christ. Sunday morning I was watching a sermon and the preacher quoted a stat to encourage people to give more to the church: “Americans, even poor ones, are richer than 99% of the world.” He said this to let his congregation know that they were financially well off. The United States is a financially rich nation, and we have always been a very generous nation at home and abroad.
From this truth, however; this sermon quickly trickled into the Evangelical go to when it comes to giving: guilt. The next line of the sermon stated “you on welfare, you are in the top 1%. You are rich.” This statement, I believe, was meant to motivate people to give by guilting those who weren’t on welfare to give more to the church. My assumption is (looking at the fine building, and the crowd as they panned the audience) that this church had a very small contingent of people actually on welfare in the audience. The pastor was using a form of false equivalency of “rich” welfare recipients to illustrate that non-welfare recipients were really blessed. This means, of course, they should give more. This also means that they should feel guilty about not giving more, because even our poor are so rich. This is a far cry from Paul’s call in II Corinthians 9:7 to “give what you have decided in your heart…..not under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” Notice Paul did not say that God loves a guilted giver.
While I have many issues with the proper exegesis and application of giving in many churches today, it wasn’t actually the guilting of the congregation that bothered me most. The real issue I had was that this sermon minimized the struggle of the poor in this country. Yes, welfare recipients receive more money than much of the world. However, what this gentleman failed to address was the fact that it costs more to live in America than in the places where most of the world’s population lives. I am not sure if this TV pastor has spent much time with those on welfare, but rest assured they do not have extra money to spare. They aren’t squirreling it away, eschewing the offering, because they have a surplus and are stingy. In my experience, the poor in America (as well as all over the world) are the most generous people I know. However, they were minimized because they aren’t quite as horrifically poor as those in Africa and India, but THEY ARE ALL POOR. If we do not recognize that the poor in America are actually “the poor” we should be ministering to, we are missing the mark. This is one of the reasons I struggle with the idea of eliminating social programs to help the poor, because our churches uses them as object lessons instead of treating them as real people whom we should be serving.
I wonder if this Pastor realizes just how many people his church building would have fed oversees and right here at home if it was sold? A few million dollars goes a long way to mitigating the struggle of those who need it (instead of minimizing them). I wonder if this Pastor realizes that those whom he used as a guilting block for others in his congregation have kids who go to bed hungry every night, right here, in America. I also wonder what the application he would draw from the parable of the sheep and the goats, where our commitment to Christ was boiled down to how we love those who are hurting, suffering, and in need of help.
It seems pastors always want to take the directions to Israel in Malachi on how to give, but they don’t find it equally applicable to find the verses of treating those in our nation as God directed Israel to in the Torah. We do not believe that God blesses those who give to the poor from Psalms and Proverbs.
We have real poverty in America and the right thing to do is to meet those needs, not use them as an object lesson. Perhaps getting out of the ivory tower, plush, and comfortable church building, and spending time with the least of these right here at home would help him find better analogies to use to fleece the flock.