Economic Woes Strike the Churches
IN THESE days of economic stress, people usually spend money only on what they really need. Do they feel a need for religion? Well, statistics show that they are putting out fewer dollars for religion. As a result, many churches and other religious organizations are suffering financial jitters.
Overall, the percentage of money contributed by Americans to their religious organizations has dropped. In 1964, the churches received almost 50 percent of all money donated to charities. In 1973, they received only about 41 percent, or ten billion dollars, of this amount. The pattern was about the same in 1974. This is indeed a sizable dip.
While most church incomes are down, church expenses are up. The Catholic Archdiocese of San Francisco, California, reports that for every extra dollar received during recent years, it has been paying out five dollars in higher costs. And a report from Liverpool, England, says: “Collections are not keeping pace with spiralling costs.”
Effect of Economic Woes
Papal Secretary of State Cardinal Jean Villot has warned of a possible reduction in the size of the Vatican’s staff, due to mounting expenses. Among the austerity measures already put in force are higher prices at the Vatican’s supermarket and gasoline station. The Vatican’s financial status was certainly not improved in 1974 when it lost about $56 million in Italy’s Sindona banking scandal.
Many Protestant churches are also caught in the squeeze between declining donations and higher costs. As a result, during 1974 Denver’s Calvary Baptist Church filed for bankruptcy; the Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Virginia, was placed in virtual receivership, and Rex Humbard’s popular Cathedral of Tomorrow in Akron, Ohio, barely escaped bankruptcy.
The well-known evangelical magazine Christianity Today recently editorialized: “For the first time in ten years the American Bible Society sent out a strong financial appeal six weeks before year end . . . Religious Heritage of America reported changes to reduce spending so as to remain viable. Billy Graham announced plans for a cutback.”
Church headquarters are, generally speaking, suffering even more than local churches. Why? Because local churches are holding on to all they can for their own expenses, thus reducing their support of the “mother churches.”
Jewish synagogues, too, are wondering which way to turn to get out of their financial jams. “Our congregations are going through a most difficult time,” says Rabbi Bernard Ducoff, president of the Northern California Board of Rabbis and executive director of the Board of Jewish Education. He adds: “Many of them are experiencing substantial deficits. They have found it necessary to cut back on staff and to ask for increased contributions.”
Individual pastors also feel pressured by money problems. A year-long study among nineteen Protestant denominations by the National Council of Churches’ Office of Church Leadership reveals that 22 percent of the parish pastors hold secular jobs on the side. This is up 15 percent over ten years earlier. Now 45 percent of their wives hold jobs, twice the number of a decade ago.
More than a Financial Issue
But is this religious financial gloom really due just to the current economic pinch? No. It appears that there is much more to the question than that.
For example, in spite of economic problems, the public is spending more and more money on recreation and leisure. In other words, people have enough money for good times, things they want to do—but not for religion. Thus Business Week quotes Orville Slutzky, the operator of a huge ski area near New York city, as saying, as he looked out over Easter vacationers: “A lot of these people may be out of work, but they’re getting unemployment compensation, and they’re spending it to have fun.” Movies are thriving.
Then what, in reality, is at the root of the church money shortage?
Apparently the average churchgoer does not feel that providing money to his church is important!
Many, it seems, are of this opinion because they have lost their respect for the churches and, as a result, the churches have relinquished control of their flocks. Confesses the Catholic magazine Commonweal: “When the Pope speaks he speaks an ever-dwindling constituency. . . . He is disregarded . . . largely because the papacy is no longer considered a strong moral force.”
In the eyes of many people the church is now no different from any other institution of the world. When politicians have called for war, so have the churches. When sexual permissiveness has become popular, the churches have encouraged it. When “science” criticizes the Bible as unsound, the clergy join the chorus. So, people have concluded, there is no distinction between the churches and the rest of the world.
Then, too, there is the emphasis on money in the churches. Church raffles and gambling have flourished as they endeavor to raise funds. Contrary to Bible teaching, the churches have given much attention to soliciting funds, and this has turned away many people.
For instance, tithing is prominent in some churches. It is true that in the past, as under the Mosaic law given to the ancient nation of Israel, God required that his people give to the Levites, who served at the sanctuary, at least one tenth of what they earned. But that requirement terminated with the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. (Col. 2:14) In the true Christian congregation, the Bible shows, monetary contributions are to be made as each one “has resolved in his heart,” and not “under compulsion,”—2 Cor. 9:6, 7.
However, Robert Schuller, pastor of the Garden Grove Community Church in California, is reported to have advised: “We do believe that sincere tithers will receive unique financial blessings . . . for faithfully contributing to God’s work.” And John Durkee, who teaches “effective management” seminars to church groups, says that “the solution to abundant living in times like these is to tithe your way to prosperity.” He adds: “Those who do give and commit themselves never have a problem about adversity or economic reversals.”
Hugh McNatt, of Miami, Florida, disagrees. He sued his church, arguing that ‘God has not rewarded 800 dollars in tithes.’ He claims that, despite what the preacher said, he received ‘neither blessings nor rewards in the three years that passed after his donation.’
Where Is Spiritual Food?
There is another reason for the economic woes and it is related to this matter of wrong teachings. It is the growing awareness on the part of the public that the churches have not provided real spiritual benefits for their members.
No doubt this is the reason that a number of religious periodicals have folded up and gone out of business in recent months. Says The Christian Century: “The fact is that within American Protestantism the general religious periodical is almost extinct.’’
But is there a religious group that does not accent the material side of things? Are there publications that lead one to forsake wrong habits and practices and thinking, and that really assist one to make one’s mind over to be Godlike?
Well, consider: Back in 1879 in the second issue of The Watchtower (then called Zion’s Watch Tower), it was noted:
“‘Zion’s Watch Tower’ has, we believe, JEHOVAH for its backer, and while this is the case it will never beg nor petition men for support. When He who says: ‘All the gold and silver of the mountains are mine,’ fails to provide necessary funds, we will understand it to be time to suspend the publication.”
That issue of the magazine cost five cents. Today The Watchtower still costs five cents in the U.S.A.—in spite of much higher production and mailing costs. It has grown from a circulation of a few thousand to almost ten million copies printed every two weeks. Would that not indicate that it has had a real and powerful effect in changing people’s viewpoint for the better? Yes, it has emphasized spiritual values, not material ones.
During more than ninety-six years of publication, The Watchtower has constantly advocated the high principles of Jehovah God, as taught in the Bible. Many persons have been reading The Watchtower for decades. Logically, they have come to appreciate how it directs one’s attention to the Bible. True, they, like everyone else, have their share of personal financial problems. But is it not a comfort for them to know that in the local congregation of Jehovah’s witnesses they will never be tithed to pay out a percentage of their income? Nor will unscriptural money-raising schemes be imposed on them. It is at the Kingdom Hall that an unobtrusive contribution box is located for use by those who wish voluntarily to give money to support the work of the congregation. Donations mailed to the headquarters of the Watch Tower Society are also unsolicited and entirely voluntary.
So it appears that the woes that have come upon the churches are not simply the result of current economic problems. Does it not seem to be that they have lost the backing of the people because they no longer pursue spiritual riches, but, rather, material ones? Why give your support to them? Instead, associate with those who are enjoying real and lasting spiritual good.