Down to their last tithe

Shame on the editors of Christianity Today magazine for leveling one more kick to the shin of church folks who’ve hit a rough patch on the road of life by asking if “the jobless” should tithe on their unemployment checks. And double shame for what the question  implies — that the rest of us are cheerfully handing over a full ten percent in support of Kingdom causes. (See “The Village Green”  section of the March 2011 issue for other responses to the question.)

If truth be told — and that is what Christian Smith and Michael Emerson do in Passing the Plate: Why American Christians Don’t Give Away More Money just a tiny fraction of North American Christians give anything close to a ten percent tithe. Regular church goers give less than 3 percent of their after tax income to charity. And at least one out of five American Christians gives literally nothing to church, para-church, or nonreligious charities. It’s probably safe to assume that not all those nongivers are eeking by on unemployment.

What’s the impact of all this un-generosity? Smith and Emerson write that:  

. . . if American Christians could somehow find a way to move to practices of reasonably generous giving, they could generate, over and above what they currently give, a total of another $133.4 billion a year to devote to whatever purposes and needs they would choose. What good in the world U.S. Christians could do with an additional $133.4 billion, year after year, is almost unimagianble, simply astonishing, nearly beyond comprehension.

So back to the question posed by Christianity Today. The lost tithe on unemployment checks is unimaginably, simply astonishingly, nearly incomprehensively insignificant in comparison to the billions that the rest of God’s people are holding back. Or to borrow a metaphor from Jesus, the question feels an awful lot like going after the speck in our neighbor’s eye while ignoring the beam in our own.


  1. So, I’m getting the feeling you didn’t care for the Christianity Today article 🙂 What a good challenge, this post is to all of us – who admittedly don’t often give 10%!

  2. Thanks for the comment. I have noticed that most people (including a lot of pastors) these days use the word “tithe” as a synonym for “give.” When the meaning of a word is degraded, it’s been my experience that so is the behavior it describes.


  1. […]  puts them in a class far apart from the folks to whom they minister. As I noted in a prior post, regular church goers give less than 3 percent of their after tax income to […]

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