Love of Money : The Church's Dirty Little Secret
“I want to write a novel about Silence,” he said, “the things people don’t say.”
What don’t we talk about at church?
Let’s start with something easier. What DO we talk about at church? (Depends which church, I suppose. At my church we talk about gardening a lot. And crying. My church is a four on the enneagram.)
I have found, within the past decade, that there are three things that modern-day evangelical Christianity just cannot stop chattering about. They are as follows :
1) any sexuality/gender identity that falls outside the confines of male/female monogamy
2) Abortion (Pro-life vs. Pro-choice)
3) We must protect the gospel from women who want to share it
The bible mentions Topic 1 a total of six times (keeping in mind that sexual orientation was not understood during biblical times), Topic 2 – depending on who you are and how you define abortion – is up for debate, but still in the single digits, and Topic 3 – also zero times.
However, one thing that bible does talk about – almost incessantly – is the condemnation of greed, wealth, and the love of money.
You would think – with the piously vehement claims of scripture being the ultimate authority – that we would pay a little more attention to this subject. But the reason we don’t – and the reason we won’t – is because churches are carried by the wealthy.
Think of a family reunion. The richest person in the family is the one who says when the family will be getting together, where they’ll be getting together, what they’ll be doing at the get-together. Why? Because they have the money.
The church operates in the same way.
Oh, we want to not operate in the same way. But we do. Decisions of the pastor and Church boards are often dependent upon – or catering to – what the rich people in the congregation want. Because they pay the bills. Because they keep the lights on.
And the thing that makes this whole arrangement even more awkward and sticky is the fact that people who have accumulated large sums of wealth are – intentionally or otherwise – invested in keeping poor people in a state of poverty. They just are. It’s not pretty, but at this point, it just is what it is. Rich people want to keep and expand their money. I also want to keep and get more money. Poor people want to have money to keep. Those are our roles. That’s how this whole thing works. The rich people stay rich, and the poor people stay poor. (It’s called intractable poverty, and you can tell the Rolling Stone I said that.)
And honestly, nothing makes me feel more badass than rolling through the mean streets of Bowness blasting Bitch Better Have My Money. Or listening to Cardi B telling me how she pays her mama’s bills, and therefore does not have time to chill. All her pyjamas is leather.
So we want to help the poor people – because the bible says so – but we don’t want to help them too much, because then the people at the top will get a smaller slice of the pie. We might help feed the homeless crowd one evening a week, but any sort of action that actually raises class concerns is frowned upon. Seen as divisive. Too political. We’re going to help you, but we’re not going to empower you.
And the reason this is so sticky and awkward is because the rich person and the poor person are all thrown together in one big jumble the minute they walk through the church doors. All together in one miserable, lovely, disgusting mess. Here we are now, entertain us.
Which would be one thing, if all our cards were out on the table. But they’re not, are they? We don’t want to admit how things are, because if we did, we would have to do something about it. And if we had to do something about it, it would upset the status quo. And if we upset the status quo, the bills would not get paid. If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a thousand times : “You’re quite eager to complain about the rich while also quite happily taking their money.” (I mean, guilty as charged, but is it really their money if everything belongs to God? I digress.)
But it doesn’t make anything worse to have it said out loud. And what I must say out loud is this : I have held up modern-day evangelical western Christianity to the light, and our love of money is cancerous. Our deference to it will poison everything that we have and lead us to our death.
Consider, for a minute, Christian Summer Camps, and the glory of the crystallized pain of puberty. Christian Summer Camps are a haven for many, a place to find Jesus and get strung out on sugar and hormones. We want to keep them running, obviously. However, one Christian Summer Camp I know of in particular will not go so far as to say they condemned homosexuality (because they need federal government grants to stay running), but they also would not go so far as to say they accepted homosexuality (because they need the donations of rich conservatives to stay running.) Their main objective is to keep the camp running and “not participate in politics.” But we can’t keep playing both sides of the field here. We can no longer act as if we don’t have a dog in the fight. Money has no authority in the Kingdom of God, so we can’t keep giving large quantities of decision-maker power to people who have more financial resources just because they have more financial resources. As free people, we can no longer be held in captivity by the almighty dollar. We don’t worship the dollar, so we need to stop worshipping the dollar.
And if I sound like I’m slagging on the rich people, rest assured I’m not. Being rich is not a part of their personality, just like being perpetually out of cash is not a part of my personality. And I love money. I love it! I wish I had more of it all the time! I love buying shit I don’t need! I’m every advertiser’s dream!
Long story short, I’m not the Lorax. I’m the customer base of the fucking Once-ler. How embarrassing. How undignified. Mea culpa, mea culpa. My fault, my fault, my own most grievous fault.
What the Church should be invested in and what the Church should be doing cannot be dictated by rich people. Neither can it be dictated by poor people. It can only be dictated by kindness, by the physical manifestations of God’s grace, and by what scriptures tell us : Keep your lives free from the love of money. Be content with what you have. Do not put your love of money before your love of God. Do not cling to wealth. Freely you have received, freely give.
We must be like the widow, who had no source of income and yet gave everything she had. We must not be like the Pharisees, who gave only their spare change, money they were not dependent on and did not need for survival.
This is why it is immoral and anti-Christian for churches to have more money than they need when there are real needs that money could be servicing. If we’re putting more money into multimedia spectacles and cappuccino bars than into the needs of the vulnerable in our communities, then we’ve got a fucking problem.
And it’s time we started talking about it.