Tuesday, August 28, 2012

your church is too expensive

I came across this picture on Facebook last night, shared by someone named "Progressive Secular Humanist Examiner," and -- as I've been on a bit of a Facebook tear lately, ranting at megachurches -- I thought I'd throw out a few reflections on here, as well. 

First, I want to say that while I absolutely LOVE the message of this picture, I do tend want to quibble, a bit, when the money is being spent on extravagant art/architecture that is (theoretically) intended to reflect the glory of God. 

There is something worthwhile about a cathedral, yes.

But I don't think there's a megachurch in America that's built with beauty as a primary concern, and I know there isn't a single one structurally sound enough to last longer than maybe fifty years without major overhaul.  Drywall isn't exactly granite-tough.

Still, I think the point of the picture has to be reckoned with, and that it's only possible to quibble and have arguments over the relative value of art if the people dying of malnutrition are another color, and in another country. If fifty million white people were dying of starvation next door to even the most beautiful cathedral project ever, there aren't too many people who wouldn't say it would be WRONG-WRONG-WRONG to continue pumping money into the building fund while those people die off. 


Feed the hungry, then build the cathedral.

And just because people wouldn't give money to the poor unless they had a fancy building to do it in does NOT make it right.  Nor does the small percentage of their money that megachurches transfer to the needy actually justify the pastor's half-a-million-a-year salary (yeah, I'm talkin' to you, Rick Warren) and the bajillions spent on programs for the members themselves. That's just getting a tax break for paying for membership in a country club.

Sure, it isn't really an either-or dichotomy, and there are plenty of other places to get the money to feed the dying -- Americans spend 90 million a year on their pets, for example, and probably a whole lot more than that on hair-products. But since a church building is a symbol of the Church universal, which is SUPPOSED to be all about showing practical love... well, there's a serious disjunct, there, and I am not surprised if some "Progressive Secular Humanist" sees the hypocrisy in that.

My question is, why is someone outside the church fulfilling the necessary prophetic role? 


I'm as hypocritical and selfish with my money as the next guy... but it's not like it takes eagle-vision to see that something's really, really wrong, here. 

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9 comments:

  1. Okay ... so ... I typed out a big long comment and then promptly deleted it rather than post it, so forgive me if what follows sounds terse - I am now quite agitated, having only just restrained myself from punching my laptop screen. (and me a pacifist, at that)

    Obviously there is a disconnect if the church preaches love, and sits (for the most part) idly by while millions die for lack of food or clean water - no doubt about that. The problem is when you start thinking about where God might draw the line on the money you spend on yourself while poverty and starvation yet exists. Does Mr. Progressive Secular Humanist own a TV set? How about a computer or a smartphone? A car or two? Did s/he really need to upsize that extra value meal at McDonald's at lunch today, or could they have muddled through with the medium fries instead of the large and used that extra 79¢ to help the needy?

    There can be no end to amount of agonizing we could do over every dollar we spend - and this is precisely where Mr. PSH is exactly right. We as a society, as a church, as a family, and as individuals should suffer angst when we choose ourselves over our fellow humans ... and we do that almost every moment of every day. There's not really any answers as to what is ok for us and I kind of think that's what God intended. We shouldn't feel too comfortable when we satisfy our every desire, however we shouldn't necessarily despise our own humanity which includes our desires. All that to say, I agree with the picture and the sentiment being expressed - I just think there's a lot more finger pointing that should go on, including at ourselves.

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    1. I think a lot of people use that as a reason to stop the discussion. "We waste money on ourselves, so why are we getting upset at them?"

      It ought to work the other way around. Others' excesses should become reasons to start a discussion around our own. And I feel that it shouldn't just be a matter of guilt over individual choices, either. We all have a ton of burdens to deal with, without trying to solve everyone else's problems. Let's come up with ways to do this as a society, such as by finding the ways we reward people who have way too much and punishing those who have not enough.

      Recognizing excess, and refusing to contribute towards it, is a good first step.

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    2. Agreed, Darren. And not just because you're my cousin and I know how much it would hurt if you punched me :)

      I also agree with jewelfox, because I often confuse pacifism with placating.

      Fact: I'm sort of a hypocrite.
      Fact: Anybody who's upsizing their meal at McDonald's should just stop, because they shouldn't be at McDonald's to begin with.
      Fact: I am the most frugal person that I (or anybody who knows me) knows, and yet I STILL feel like I'm too obsessed with my own desires... because you're right, it's endless.
      Fact: None of that changes the fact that the kids are dying, and I bought a camera I didn't really need.
      Fact: Ultimately, my desire for people to be more like me - to count EVERY purchase as a moral decision - is a desire based on ego, not love. God Almighty, I wish we weren't so rich while they're so poor. Most of the time, though, this wish doesn't sink any deeper into me than a blog post.

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  2. You will appreciate the story of Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City, then. http://www.stjohndivine.org/history_written.html

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    1. Thanks, Dale. That's a nifty story... Cathedral construction as an economic stimulus plan. I like it.

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  3. Aren't prophets always from outside the church?

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  4. okay, so this is way overdue but this made me think about what our church here in the US did to balance (a little) the 2 million dollar extension and renovations they did on the building some 14-15 years ago. One way they used to pay for the building was that every month in which there is a fifth Sunday, that fifth-Sunday offering goes to the building fund. Except for one (there are usually about 4 a year, I think?), which goes to a fund called Developing Countries Capital Projects. This offering, which is usually about 6-7,000 dollars, goes to a church in the developing world, preferably one that has some connection to our congregation. The other stipulation is that the donation go to a building project that is already underway to ensure that there is a local counterpart. This fund has also connected us to a church in New Orleans that is rebuildng after Katrina. Anyway, at least they're thinking about these issues and making an attempt to address them.

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  5. Perhaps... or assuaging guilt with a few shekels. Certainly no widows mite, but who knows for certain why anybody does anything? I certainly don't.

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  6. Righteous indignation sucks. You decide what I mean by that.

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