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In this third reflection on John Oliver's brilliant critique of abusive, predatory practices pertaining to church, faith, and money, we'll explore the depth of the lie known as the "prosperity gospel". We'll also explore the truth behind the "seed" metaphor that has been so abused in this version of religion and generosity.
"Seed Faith: [is] the notion that donations are seeds that you will one one day be able to harvest."
Let's begin with the lie, cuz it's funny, and seems like the sham should be obvious, but is unbelievably workable by televangelist charlatans. The video makes the idea clear, "you pay money to God (the televangelist, "ministry", church, etc.), and God will bless you with a "harvest". The lie is, that if you give money to religion, with the superstitious belief in divine reciprocity, you will earn divine favor (in the form of fat stacks of cash). NO! Just NO!
in the prosperity gospel, it is a payment made to the cosmic vending machine (God?), for which one can expect to press the appropriate buttons of prayer, objective belief, and unquestioning faith, with the assumption that the vending machine will then spit out the product desired. As we've seen, this promise can take the form of a substantial return on investment (ROI), healing from terminal illness, mortgage payments, etc. I believe the guy in the video, who looked a bit like a troll doll from the 90's, cited an ROI in the neighborhood of "ten-times what was sewn". 1000% return? Right. Mhmh.
All of this to say, the specific "seed faith" scam, and the divine economy that it is built on, are destructive lies that can be used to pray on the vulnerable. So let's be clear:
Now what about the truth of this metaphor? Seeds are small organic things that grow and become larger organic things. Organic things, that is, living organisms, require resources for survival, sustainability, growth and thriving - like a seed becoming a tree. In this sense, there is profound value in the imagery and metaphor of seeds, as it pertains both to faith, and the organization of faith into community organisms.
THE TRUTH: Organisms require resources for survival, sustainability, growth and thriving - like a seed becoming a tree.
There was a great article in The Atlantic this week called “Why Every Church Needs A Drag Queen”. Among other things, it talked about church giving. Lutheran Pastor, Nadia Bolz-Webber, was interviewed, and shared the following:
“If you don’t have a drag queen in your congregation, you should get one,” Bolz-Weber said. One such man in her congregation was working with her on soliciting donations, she said, “And he goes, ‘Well we should make a T-shirt.’ And he goes, ‘On the front, it’ll say: This shit ain’t free. And on the back, it’ll say: You better tithe, bitches.’ Oh my God, it just makes church better.”
This truth, "Shit ain't free", frankly and honestly articulates the demand an organism has for resources. It is as illogical to expect a congregation to survive, sustain, grow and thrive without financial resources, as it is to expect a seed to become a tree without the resources of light, water and nutritious soil.
One of the things that John Oliver's critique best exposes, is the supernatural sham and superstitious view of God and money. He shows the practical reality that these "promises from God" are serving only to line the pockets of the predatory pastors, and to hurt those from whom they are swindling.
By acknowledging the deception and disfunction of the church's history with asking for money, Collective is hoping to keep the honesty and transparency front and center. We're promising no divine return on your financial support, and we're making it crystal clear that it ain't free. We do also believe that there are heart strings attached to your money - not in the sense of money or favor in return for your belief - but rather that you will develop commitment, a sense of ownership and responsibility, for the things in which you invest, and to which you contribute resources.
So, if you're going to schedule a gift or pledge to support Collective, do it with a clear conscience, that what we're promising is only to support and sustain the community we have come to love, and to best position ourselves for a thriving future.
To read more about the Pledge Drive, or to catch up on other posts in this series, see below:
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We value highly the metaphor of journey. We’re different people from different places and backgrounds, representing an intergenerational community, and we’ve traveled different paths. So, we agree not to make assumptions about the person across from us, next to us, or in conversation with us. We challenge ourselves to be sensitive, knowing this community includes a diverse group of people from life-long followers of Jesus, to people who are just now open to the idea that God might exist. We strive to avoid offense, ask good questions, articulate and explain our responses. We don’t assume fluency in bible, spirituality, or Church language, because we believe the message of Jesus is not for Christianity, but for humanity. So, we do everything in the spirit of love and grace.
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