Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Megachurches (a discussion)

An Atheist friend of mine from grade school (and now Facebook) posted the following picture, which I think was thought provoking (is that redundant?).  A discussion ensued, which I decided was worth keeping and posting here, for posterity sake if nothing else.

Me:  This is a tough issue. On one hand, you have lazy, pampered Americans that have expectations of comfort wherever they go. So do you force them to sit on the floor? If you try then they won't attend that particular church. Do you set a lower standard of comfort (no A/C, seats without cushions, open ceilings, etc.)? Do you limit the number of people who can attend, when you have a pastor and/or worship quality that can draw many more than are currently attending? Do you refuse to build a facility that can house over a certain number? If so, then what number is acceptable - 200, 500, 1000?

What percentage of a church's income is acceptable to contribute to helping the community, specifically the poor? if the "megachurch" is contributing this percentage, but they can still afford a facility for the large number of attendants, then is this acceptable? Or should the percentage be higher for churches that are larger than smaller ones, just because?

Friend:  How about this Michael. Preach from atop of a rock in a open field. That is what Jesus did.

It is my understanding that churches are also tax exempt because they must give back to the community. The decent religious charity I have seen (and given my time to) are Catholic Charities. I like the new pope dude too!

Me:  While the WWJD slogan is catchy and useful, it's not applicable to all of life's situations (for example, how to treat your wife, since Jesus didn't marry) or even to all Christian endeavors. Nor does the Bible even instruct us to follow Christ in every single thing that He did. For example, I don't expect to walk on water, turn over tables and reap chaos in temples, or to get crucified on a cross.

Additionally, both the Old and New Testaments describe churches (temples in the OT) as fellow believers meeting in a building together, with established rules and a leadership hierarchy. The OT temples were very elaborate too, requiring significant funds and ornate decor.

I do think that it's important for churches to be transparent in both their income and spending, and I also think it's very important for churches to feed the poor and nourish the community as much as possible. The (small to medium sized) one I attend contributes 25% of their income back to the community in various ways, which is pretty respectable to me, considering they have building costs, staff to pay, etc. Unfortunately though, I would not be surprised to learn that some churches (big and small) do not do any of these things.

Btw, I'm not Catholic, but I like the new pope dude too.

Friend:  If the church wishes to remain tax exempt, they should be very transparent. After all, Michael, it is the tax payer money that builds the roads leading to the temple. Auditing... That might work in the land of unicorns and butterflies but we are talking about money here. There would be skimming off the top in cases of cash donations. I believe we can all honestly admit that the church is not above corruption.
Me:  I agree with you.

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