The Religion Racket
by Norman H. Wells
Former Pastor, Central Baptist Church, Cincinnati
Now With The Lord
© 2005 James H. Dearmore/Gospelweb.net

The Late Dr. Norman H. Wells

[GospelWeb.net Globe]

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Chapter 20

Painless Extraction

Today's religion is often very open-minded and just about every subject can be freely discussed from the pulpit. The preacher soon learns, however, there is one thing that must never be discussed. If the preacher does mention this subject, the faces of the men will harden, young people will become nervous and giggle while mothers will clasp their hands over the ears of their children to keep them from hearing. One subject that is taboo ... money!

In most churches money is a dirty word. In any other area of life it is a cherished possession and is much sought after, but in church it is "filthy lucre." To talk about money seems to express a lack of faith. It just seems so un-religious. This is very strange. Nearly everyone has an income of some kind and has bills and payments that must be met. Salaries, pensions, income, bills, taxes, mortgages, prices, budgets, loans, monthly payments, etc. make money a very large part of daily life. Money is accepted as an honorable essential in our way of life ... everywhere, that is, except in religion.

All church members recognize that money is necessary in maintaining their buildings and activities but no one is supposed to talk about it publicly. Preachers are among the most underpaid employees in the country. People seem to feel that since preachers are men of great faith they do not need money like anyone else. In spite of this, sometime or other, practically every preacher, directly or indirectly, will be accused of being a money grabbing charlatan.

This attitude in the churches toward money has produced a variety of methods of getting money without really saying the word. It is a kind of painless extraction! This is a real task because everyone knows the difficulty of getting money from people without their crying out in pain. All this puts religion in an awkward position when it comes to finances. A manufacturer puts a price on his product that will cover his production costs and return a profit. The wholesaler and retailer buy the product and sell it for a profit. The employer determines what he can pay in the way of salaries and the employee knows what he needs in wages. Theaters, movie houses, concerts, etc., all charge an admission that covers their cost and returns a profit. This is standard procedure ... everywhere except in church.

A church will have set financial responsibilities to be met but will have no way of determining a set income. The financial income of religion is determined by what the people happen to feel like giving. This creates a situation where the average church is always under financial stress and must wait anxiously from offering to offering to see if the generosity of the people matches the size of the current bills.

No business could operate in the manner of a church. Consider the building a church must maintain. First, there is the auditorium. In the average church of today they are holding one service a week and this results in the auditorium being used less than two hours a week! There are large departmental assembly rooms in the Sunday School that are used about ten to fifteen minutes a week. Sunday School classrooms are actually in use about 35 minutes a week. The average large church of today must build and maintain an expensive building that is going to be used less than two hours a week! The only parts of today's church buildings that seem to get a lot of use are the kitchen, dining room, and recreation room. Today's church goer would rather play than pray. He prefers feasting over fasting and dancing over devotions.

In general, religion is always looking for ways of raising money. Rummage sales are a big thing. There always seems to be something a little sad about a rummage sale. There will be a little crude, homemade sign out in front of a large, ornate church proclaiming the fact that a rummage sale is in progress. Proud ladies in all their finery will be bringing in their old clothes to sell and all the proceeds go to help out the poor religion. Pie sales and bake sales are always popular. The generous members will each bake a cake or pie that will be sold and the money given to the church.

Pledges are a must in most churches. The Pastor and a faithful committee will go around to the homes of the members soliciting a pledge for meeting the coming year's budget. Religion, the supreme possession of life, is allowed to be reduced to begging for its existence. The last thing that should ever hinder the work of religion is a lack of money. However, it usually is the number one problem. Bazaars, festivals, fish frys, car washes, bingo, raffles, paper drives, etc., are all used a lot by religion to raise money. It seems that the main activity of religion is raising money.

Receiving the offering is an important part of a church service. Typically, offering plates are passed among the people and they drop in their gift of whatever amount they desire. This produces some very odd situations. For instance, one member can sacrificially and regularly give a good amount every week. Another member shows up at church once or twice a year and drops in a dime and both of these members are accepted equally in the church!

Am individual who would never allow himself to be thought of as a freeloader anywhere else doesn't seem to mind it at church. Non-supporters feel no embarrassment in knowing that there are those who are willingly sacrificing in order to maintain a church so it will be there when the non-supporter happens to attend. The non-supporter would be outraged at the idea of closing down the church he never supports. Maybe religion should be allowed to sue for non-support.

All these freeloaders and non-supporters show up on Faster Sunday and are treated as honored guests! The attendance will almost double on Easter Sunday, but the offering will stay the same!

The money given to churches is deductible when the income tax is figured. This is a big boon to churches but it does create some problems. In order to deduct the contributions to the church, a record has to be kept of the amount given and this can be embarrassing. To give when no one knows what you are giving is one thing . to give when a record is kept is another. In order for the church to keep a record of the amount given, offering envelopes have to be used. The giver puts his offering in an envelope and marks the amount on the outside. A lot of folks had to face up to a tough decision. First, they could suffer the embarrassment of admitting how little they were giving and use it as a deduction. Second, they could increase their giving and pretend this is what they had been giving all along. Third, they could refuse to use the envelopes rather than reveal how little they were giving. Of course, this costs them their deduction.

There is probably more grumbling and complaining about the necessity of the church continually seeking money than anything else. Listening to the average church goer would bring the conclusion that religion had a gun at his back and robbed him every week. Some folks complain so much about giving they don't have time to give. The church is a non-profit organization and they want to make sure that it stays that way.

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