It was a marathon "praise-a-thon" to raise money. For the religious TV station, or missions, or for a new satellite to preach God’s word to the world. I perched myself in front of the TV, watching folks stand at their seats with arms raised, moving and swaying to the music, eyes all watery, and shouting out a few praises in between stanzas.
A group of professional singers and musicians blanketed the stage, leading the auditorium from one tear-jerking song to the next. I sat thinking no TV audience could possibly be moved enough to donate by watching this. But the on-screen-total kept growing by the minute. A man in 70s couture shouted loud and long about sowing seeds of prosperity. Giving in faith. He testified because he didn’t rob God of tithes and offerings, that God blessed him, saved him from a life of poverty, sickness, and disease, and that a check for six thousand dollars mysteriously showed up in his mailbox one day. Praise God!
Phone numbers blinked at the bottom of the TV screen and I wondered how many of these marathon offerings I've sat through in my lifetime? Does God really need my money? Or does He really intend to test my faith on a regular basis by whether or not I give my last dime?
I suppose that depends on whether or not we take the scriptures literally. The condemnation I feel for even writing this weighs heavy on me, because I was brought up on the covenants of God. On the conviction of the Holy Spirit. On the literal meaning of each and every scripture. And if you did not believe as I did, then whoa be unto you. You were dead already.
I understand why praise and worship offering marathons exist. Somebody needs to carry the burden to pay for TV time. It might as well be you or me. But I also know the love these praise and worshipers profess for their Creator, as well as the fear involved. The sorrow they feel for anyone who does not believe like they do. I swallowed that dogma for years and chased the feelings of eternal security until my feet were worn to bloody stubs.
Am I now an apostate? Have I forsaken the cross?
I've grown tolerant. I've learned God's love cannot be explained or compared to the love we know as humans. I learned that we cannot control God by "giving until it hurts." I've even grown tolerant of folks praising God on camera and living like the devil when the house lights are turned off.
After some time, I changed the channel. Tithing and giving can be looked at in different ways. For me, giving to a down-and-out family across the street is doing God's work. His hand reaches out to the poor and the homeless when we give food and coats and shelter to the needy. You don't do it for recognition, but for love and compassion for your fellow man. That, my friend, is following in the footsteps of true Christianity.
I think many evangelicals have lost their focus of what it means to give. We've become so wrapped up in believing that God wants His people to have the best, that we forget Christ lived and dwelt among the poor and the destitute. I'm not saying it's wrong to have nice things, and I don't have a problem with sitting in a pretty church, but I do have a problem when it becomes the focus of a church to make sure their pastor lives in the lap of luxury. I have a problem with pastors who wear designer clothes when some in his congregation can barely feed their kids!
I realize most churches claim to be good stewards with their money. I'm sure some would even allow you to see where their money is spent. Many congregations are extended family to their members, loving them and caring for their needs during a family crisis. Church families can be a real blessing. But when televangelists hound you week after week to hand over your ten percent in addition to your love offering—they not only take away from the local church, they’re also manipulating you to give out of fear. Fear that you won’t get that raise, that new car, or the healing for your bad back. That you’ll miss out on an “anointing” that comes with supporting their ministry. TV preachers and marathon praise-and-worshippers know exactly what to say to make you weep. They can send you to the phone to donate before you realize you've left the comfort of your Lazy boy.
We can reach out in many directions, inside and outside of the church. And we shouldn't feel guilty for it. I believe He blesses us according to the intents of our heart. I've experienced the stranglehold of a megachurch. I know first-hand the guilt involved in not paying your tithes. But never again will you see me clutching my hard-earned money in my hand and walking down the aisle to throw it at the pastor’s feet. A pastor who wears Italian leather shoes and Armani suits. I'd rather take my chances and give it to the panhandler on the corner.
Find a charity. Sponsors for children in underdeveloped countries are needed, as well as here in America. With our economy the way it is, struggling families in your own neighborhood need help. Be an anonymous donor. Give your ten percent or more to a hurting family. Pay their light bill, a mortgage payment, or stock their cupboards with groceries. Control where your money goes. Leave a note on their door with a word of encouragement.
That is the priority of us all. Christian or not.
About the author: Pamela King Cable is the author of the highly acclaimed collection of short stories, Southern Fried Women. Born a coal miner’s granddaughter and raised by a tribe of wild Pentecostals and storytellers, she speaks to book clubs, women’s groups, civic organizations, and at churches throughout the country. Her debut novel, Televenge, was just released in October 2012. To learn more about the author, visit www.pamelakingcable.com.