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Thursday, November 02, 2006

Give to God! Act Now And Get These Ginsu Knives 100% Free!

A while back, I wrote about my experience with Bishop and Con Man Dennis Leonard (and I would feel comfortable throwing “race baiter” in that mix, too, but it just didn’t flow). The Denver Post has a few articles on Leonard’s mega-church, The Heritage Christian Center, that spills a little light on the ministry of a man who encourages his flock to tithe in return for God’s blessings. That’s right, give 10% of your income and get that new car you’ve been drooling over.

Bishop Dennis Leonard calls it a step of faith. Standing on stage under the bright lights, the pastor tells Heritage Christian Center members that if they give 10 percent of their income to the church, God will bless their families for generations to come.

Show some patience, Leonard explains, and expect a turnaround in about 90 days.

A new house, a new business, tuition for college ... God will help deliver them, he says.

Gifts can be made with cash, credit card or checks written out to “HCC,” he instructs. An ATM sits in the lobby, near the neon cross that reads, “Jesus Saves.”

This is a reading from the prosperity gospel, the belief that God will reward faithful givers in this life with material wealth, a teaching that has ebbed and flowed for nearly a century but is finding prominence again among present-day televangelists.

I can’t imagine a more objectionable reading of Christian theology than this--the idea that tithing is actually an investment that will bring later material fortune is really missing the point, isn’t it?

First, if a Christian is looking for a good investment, try one of the broad-based market funds. The return is unlikely to be Hillary-playing-the-futures-market spectacular, but there is a reasonable expectation of steady long term return. Second, if a Christian is looking to honor God, then the money given isn’t for ultimately selfish reasons.

That is, the giving is a way of helping the church continue good works in the community and helping the needy. In fact, that is why I’ve always considered giving both of time and money to charities as being another way to honor God--it is giving with no expectation of return only in the hopes of spreading the blessings that I have recieved.

True giving is something that is done with no expectation of a quid pro quo.

Giving to the Heritage Christian Center is something that is done when one’s brain has turned to the off position, though.

While many pastors reluctantly preach about giving, Leonard devotes five to 10 minutes weekly to the biblical mandate to tithe, or give 10 percent of one’s income.

“You may be in the valley today, you may be in an impossible thing today,” Leonard preached at a service in late 2005. “But remember, after the valley comes the mountaintop, and after the test comes the testimony. You can’t have the ‘mony’ without the ‘test.’ You can’t have the money without passing the tithes and offerings test.”
[...]
The church began a benevolence program to help struggling tithe- paying members with rent and utilities but stopped after a year because the demand drained church resources, said Joel Moreno, a former Hispanic ministries pastor.

“I was confronted with families who said they had prayed and tithed because that’s what Leonard asked them to do,” he said. “Then their electricity was being cut off and they felt the church had turned their back on them.”

The church--any church--does not exist to exault its pastor, feed egos, or make its leadership rich. It exists to spread the word of God, give believers a place of fellowship and learning with like minds, and to help the needy in the community. What Bishop Leonard preaches is a complete twisting of the teachings of Jesus (who hardly promised wealth or an easy road to his followers) into some spiritual Ponzi scheme.

Just be sure to get in on the bottom floor so that you, too, can get the best loot available, and know that you can’t win if you don’t ante up.

I would never encourage a Christian to not give, but giving should be done with both the heart and the head. With that in mind, here are my own personal rules for giving (whether it is to a church or to a charity.

  1. Giving is what you do to help others, it is not what you do to help yourself.
  2. Give quietly; this isn’t about the individual ego or bragging rights.
  3. Only give to organizations that will use the money well--otherwise you are helping fewer people than you could. Some of the big churches and charities are so heavy with overhead and bureaucracy that little of the money given actually goes to the people who need it most. Investigate and understand where your money is going.
  4. It is often much harder for most of us, leading our busy lives, to give our time. But giving of youself by volunteering with a local charity or organization is often far more useful than putting twenty bucks in the offering plate every week.
  5. For Christians, God isn’t asking just for cash donations, He is asking us to give in service to others. And He isn’t promising us anything in return other than His pleasure and the hope that we can walk a little closer to that perfect person He wishes us to be.

I can’t imagine that I would ever find a moment where I gave money to Heritage Christian Center; I simply don’t trust a huckster like Leonard (who mindlessly insults me and then pushes for 10% of my income) to actually use the money for a good cause. For that matter, I realize that most of the money that is given probably goes to the upkeep on the Biggie-Sized church and the electric bill for the oversized neon “Sinners Welcome” sign.

We all ultimately do what our conscience dictates and mine has loudly encouraged me to find other outlets for my charitable giving.

(More links about Heritage Christian Center can be found in the extended entry.)

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