For a very long time, my husband took the position that “This, too, shall pass.”  So I had expressed concern.  So I had asked questions.  Repeatedly because the senior pastor would not respond.  Give it time. They’ll get over it.

For a very long time, we chose to live on virtually one income while we raised our children.  Most weeks I would have to decide if I should pay a utility bill or buy groceries.  We were okay with that because we felt it important that I be home with our boys.  My husband passed up offers to advance in his job because he didn’t want the additional hours or to be on call 24/7 while our children were growing up.

But what that meant was that, while we did our best to tithe, our tithe wasn’t much.  Giving on a gross salary of $24,000 per year was definitely sacrificial.

One day, when I was at a women’s ministry event, the woman whom I call “Sybil” in my story spouted, “I know there isn’t a woman in this room whose net household income is less than $50,000.”  I wanted to crawl under the carpet.  Perhaps people weren’t aware of our income, but our GROSS was only about $24,000 at the time.

The senior pastor would often declare from the pulpit, “Show me your check book and I will tell you if you really believe” type of statements.  My check book was our house payment, utility bills, phone bill (land line), groceries, and offering.  I bought my kids clothes, our furniture, virtually everything else at garage sales and estate auctions.

Then, about the same time that they changed our governance so that we no longer were given a detailed financial statement, they also instituted a policy that in order to be an elder or deacon, you had to take a class.  A class that was going to cost you over $200 (I think it was about $235).

That’s when my husband began to realize that my questions weren’t something that would just blow over.  That’s when he began to realize that things were getting fishy.  That’s when he declared, “Well, I’ll never be an elder or a deacon because I don’t agree with buying my way into leadership.”

As time went on, I began to work more and eventually went back to teaching full time.  My income increased our total gross income by nearly 65% – yes, I make substantially more than my husband even as a teacher.  Of course, because we believe in tithing, our giving increased substantially, as well.  Right away, my husband said, “Just wait.  Now that we are giving more, you are going to become more acceptable.”

And he was absolutely correct.  It was about a year after our giving increased that I was told that I could participate in the church in any way that I chose.

Fast forward a few years.

When my counselor hit me over the head with the fact that the senior pastor did not respect me, all of the stars were aligning in our world with regard to other monetary demands.  Besides things like my son’s wedding, needing to buy a newer vehicle, and my husband suffering repeated injuries that required significant medical bills, we were also giving to several charitable events for others who were suffering from cancer, injury, etc.

We decided to lessen our tithe to the church in order to “minister financially” to others in whatever way God placed on our hearts.

At the same time, my husband and I discussed the possibility that, because we were giving significantly less to the church for several months, there was a strong possibility that the attitude toward me/us would turn sour.  And that’s exactly what happened.

When the leadership discovered that I had shared my story with a very small number of people – and only two “close” friends at the church – on a password-protected blog, they refused to offer so much as an apology for the way that I had been persecuted, ostracized, judged, and condemned.

Looking back, the role that money obviously played in what happened is fascinating.

  1. Tithing is not really a biblical doctrine, certainly not in the way that it is presented in many churches.
    At the church end, giving should be anonymous – the pastor should have no access to individual giving figures.
    In general, giving money to organisations that are not transparent in their accounting is not a responsible action.

    • Ellen says:

      Norman, I wholeheartedly agree. We have always only given what was on our hearts to give. And the change to the organizational structure along with the changes leading to the loss of financial disclosure were so incremental and so subtle – not to mention that no one, to our knowledge, was raising concerns outside of me – that, to be so invested in an organization – the friends, the neighbors, the community – it was just so easy to “go along to get along.” I think this happens to many, many people no matter where they stand on doctrinal issues of tithing or the transparency of finances. Look at Mars Hill and Mark Driscoll . . . enough said.

      • Dealing with that sort of incremental abuse is extremely difficult. You try to draw a line at a certain point and they say, “Why are you making such a big issue out of something so minor and trivial?” and then, it’s “No one else is complaining, only you. What makes your opinion so special?”
        Not confined to churches of course.

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