It’s not often the stars align to send us a lecture in the same week both from the pulpit and the New York Times editorial page. But it happened this week; the subject was charitable giving.
The lecture from the pulpit was less a lecture than an invitation. As we approached annual budget time, our church found itself $150,000 short of a nearly two-million dollar goal which would allow us to continue all our ministries as well as keep the lights on and pay the staff. Palmer has a large congregation and much wealth, but like everyone else, our members have suffered economically in the past several years. Yet the Rector termed this not a crisis of cash but of trust – and truly not a crisis at all but a chance for questions and answers and conversation. Talk we did, over a week. Some didn’t need answers as much as needed an invitation to join the conversation.
Jump to Sunday morning, a week later. We brought the Times to the breakfast table before church only to find this on the editorial page: “To Tithe or Not to Tithe….” The editorial and graphics were not so much an encouragement to 21st century Americans to tithe as a critique of the current race for the presidency. Mitt Romney’s wealth has been much in the news, particularly with the recent release of his 2010 tax return. No doubt he is a wealthy man; no doubt his tax rate is low. But the stunning disclosure was that he and his family give nearly 14 percent of their income to charity (predominantly the LDS church.) The Obamas gave just over 14 % in 2010. Gingrich gave only 2.6 % of his $3million income, and yet bested the median American tax payer by .5%.
We don’t talk about tithing much in the Episcopal Church. We talk about stewardship and service. But money seems to be off limits. Yet I remember sermons about tithing in the Baptist church when I was a young adult. It seemed to me the message wasn’t that I was required to give 10% to God, but rather that I was to give with forethought and planning, and that I was to strive to answer the call of the Gospel to care for my neighbor as for myself, as if that neighbor was God himself. And that I was to give 1%, then two, then three and so on, until I’d learned the practice of charity.
That median tax payer referenced in the Times piece had a 2010 adjusted gross income of less than $45,000, and yet he gave 2.1% to charity. How much easier it should be to give generously as we earn more, as we approach $1 million or $2 or $3. Yet it seems to be the opposite.
So what of the budget gap at Palmer? We spent a week in conversation and prayer. By the time we came back together on Sunday morning, we learned that we’d closed the budget gap and then some. ($190,000 came in, and they are still counting.) We put talk about money back on the table in our Episcopal Church. We plan to keep it on the table. There’s nothing wrong with an explicit call to generosity … as if our neighbors’ lives depend on it.