Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Cloudy with a Chance of Freewill Gifts

Or: An unplanned rant on wealthy Pastors and Churches

"So Moses sent out orders through the camp: "Men! Women! No more offerings for the building of the Sanctuary!" The people were ordered to stop bringing offerings!" - Exodus 36:6
The people gave freely to the work of the Lord. So much, the artisans had to complain of a supply glut. I desire to help those doing the Lord's work in my life have enough to work with. Lord, open my hands to give and my arms to embrace your work. Amen.
Hold Up:  I can see your face crease in that questioning way it did when Trump said: “Obama founded ISIS.” So, the real article is down below, but I needed to share the above to give context.
I join a few friends to read a passage of the bible every day and share our core lessons. On one fine day in May, we read Exodus 36: 6 and that (up there) was what I shared. But you see, I sat back down to write a long postscript that I didn’t share with anyone. Until now. So…back to scheduled programming.
I am thinking of Moses and the artisans, and what they did in that dusty strip where they had the job of building God’s Sanctuary.
There was too much material to work with. Easily, the artisans could have kept taking on gifts, accumulating them with the end-game being to appropriate the excess to themselves.
If the Exodus account is to be believed, they did otherwise. Cried out to Moses and told him to stop this rain of gifts.
By this single act, they did three things:
1: They kept the focus on the work of the Lord, not the gain in it. 
2: They kept their integrity.
3: (I'll share the third later.)
You already know where I'm headed with this. How does the 21st century Artisan (read, doer of the Lord's work, Church, Pastor, Bishop...GO?) react to events like this?
Are they primed to save themselves from the temptation of an over-generous congregation willing to gift their very means of livelihood for the work of the Lord?
I don't know what those answers are for sure. If what we see on TV and observe around town is anything to go by, the answers are:
1: A lot of them do not react with integrity.
2: And no. Most of them are not prepared to insulate themselves from the temptation. If anything, they encourage their congregants to give and give. Preferably, till they are themselves impoverished from all the giving.
What does it mean for artisans to insulate themselves from the temptation to accumulate wealth?
As an extension of what Moses and workers in Exodus did, it is to examine the problem and figure how much it would take to solve it then stick with the plan.
I like to think the Bible is clear on that one thing.
"Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won't you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? - Luke 14: 28.
Replace "tower" with anything churches spend their money on. 
To do this, it will take the Artisans answering questions like:
"What are we doing?"
"Where are we going?"
"How long will it take us to get there?
"How much does it all cost us?"
Answering these would help them know when to say "that'll be all for this month, thank you."
I won't doubt that our Artisans answer these four questions among many others. In the same token, I won't doubt much that they are political about that last question – “How much does it all cost?”
They relax the brackets around how much they need. Saying some pseudo-spiritual things, turning the bible on its head and taking into consideration things like Hofstadter’s Law.
“It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter’s Law.” - Hofstadter’s Law
Remember that third thing I was going to tell you the single act proved? 
It is that these people know their onions. To appropriate the words of my new favorite rapper, NF the Narcissist, "these people aren’t driving around, they know where their lane is."
They understood that it was God's work and not a scheme to attain wealth. I can throw statistics around, but really, if Barthemeus were around, he'd see that the Church Industry is one of the most profitable Industries in the world right now. It's just another entrepreneurial pursuit. 
I like how this Quora user phrased the idea of religious industry in response to the question; What is the most profitable business model ever made?  
In all seriousness, I think it is religion.  What are some of the general tenets that make it so?
1. 10% tithing of your earnings going to the church. 
2. Your "workers" are generally paid subsistence wages and work 24/7 (and are more or less happy to do so).
3. You can franchise out to other countries and make modifications that work in the new cultures.
4. When your customers die, they often leave a large portion of their wealth to the church.  This may be due to honest "conversion" or because of "investments" made to help them earlier in life that result in them paying back a lifetime of accumulation.
5. Your product is the promise of great riches in an afterlife.  Zero manufacturing and distribution costs.
6. The payout doesn't have to come from your Earthly assets.
7. No lawsuits from unsatisfied customers.
All this adds up to massive accumulation of wealth that can be used for other useful projects.  As an example, during the English Reformation, Henry VIII became the head of the Church of England and appropriated all the amassed wealth.  I haven't been able to find any reliable information on assets other than land, but at that time it was estimated that they owned 25% - 30% of the land in England.  
The biggest problems right now are competition and customer acquisition (and customer skepticism). 
Maybe a little over the top, but close enough to the truth.
Some might argue; hey, but do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.
True. The Ox at the tread should not eat up the commonwealth, either. The Ox was made first to tread and not to eat. When the Ox interchanges these roles, it becomes an expensive toy. An unwieldy pet.
Some might also ask; what should Churches do when they have gifts in excess? Give it all back?
I won’t think to answer that question. Nothing is ever black and white. But here's what I know for sure; the Churches know the decent thing to do. They have chosen to do otherwise.