Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Many a truth is told in jest

A long time ago in a far away land.. (a week ago in my hometown), Nathan Colquhoun responded to an editorial about churches getting together to help a local Vineyard church run (illegally) its homeless shelter.

In Nathan's response, he uses, effectively (really, read it), satire to get a point across that many of us non-believers try to make (not jokingly) when discussing faith with those who are (sadly) infested with it.

I'm sure that most of Nathan's interests are honourable and much is truly commendable but I think he stops short and that there may be other motivators for his letter.

Churches are "known" for providing assistance to those in need but the reality is that with such overhead, many churches provide little (if any) assistance. Most of their money is spent on salaries for staff (priests/pastors) and for upkeep on their massive/expensive buildings.

Nathan is involved in a (relatively) new church start-up (we needed another church - I actually drove by two street corners the other day without seeing one - I was worried!). Like many churches, it brings in tens of thousands of dollars and, happily, spends it. Of the nearly $200,000 the church was given in the last three years, $1,000 is slotted for "core giving" in 2009. Most of the other money went to salaries, mortgage, building upkeep, capital expenses, etc.

At best, the church used $17,000 for "helping" others (with the exception of, each week, helping people read the same book over and over). That's if you assume the $16,000+ spent on mission trips was really "helping" others. I'm confident that, unlike most missions, Nathan's church did no proselytizing and spent every penny on charitable works. (Note: Use of jest but likely not the truth).

It is for these reasons that I wonder if ALL of Nathan's motivators were honourable. He pushes a different type of religion and his letter to the editor may have just been another way to attract others who are disillusioned by what is clearly not how Jesus would have hoped his religion to be practiced.

Having said all that, Nathan is an intelligent person truly interested in the well-being of others and, given the options for "believers", he is one that I can truly appreciate. I don't think his "moderate" religious attitude is the result of his belief - it is in spite of it. I like that he has taken steps to get his church to being more "Christ-like" - I just wish he'd go one step further and make it completely like Christ - non-existent. (Nathan - you can always claim your church was better than Christ - it actually did exist at one time!)

I've got some cold beverages and a bag of M&Ms for the day when Nathan finally tosses his bronze-aged myths and joins the world of non-belief. And Nathan, I'm counting on it being soon - M&M's do expire.


NathanColquhoun said...

Hey Skeptic, thanks for the post. You may have a few readers over here in the next little while so I thought I would at least answer a few of your questions.

1. The core giving sections in the budget is the money that is sent back to our denomination so they can run their operations.

2. the missions giving was done over the last few years by individuals, one group of two and one group of four who went on trips (one to dominican and one to south africa and swaziland) to work with aid organizations and to help wherever there was a need. We don't believe in proselytizing whatsoever and have abandoned most if not all attempts to shove religion down people's throats, but do believe that being with and identifying with the poor and needy in the world is exactly where we should be. So the $17000 went to these two groups to pay for their expenses, send them with supplies and pay the organizations to hold them for the time they were there. I'll let you be the judge if that was helping others or not I think it was the best we know how.

3. I didn't write it to attract anyone to the church, in fact typically I would assume that letters like this (and others I've written, and will probably continue to write) do more to upset people than attract them, including people in my own community. I do however think that letters like I wrote do tend to sit well with those who are disillusioned with how the church has become what it is now, so far from the gospel, and usually serves as an encouragement to them that they are not alone and that there is hope.

I hope the M&M's and cold beverages are still available even if I don't throw in the towel, it would be a shame for them to go to waste or get warm.

sarniaskeptic said...

Nathan, thanks for the email (and the post).

Since your response, however, I've received a couple other emails from people.

One titled "The Greatest Scam about Missions" where the gentleman goes on to explain that "missions" enable people to take "tax free" trips. The "procedure is: donate the money to the church, get a tax receipt. The church spends that money to send you on your mission."

I have taken a number of trips to locations and have brought along supplies and donated to the locals, etc., but I've always paid my way (with after-tax dollars). I don't think "missions" are the "best we know how" and I'd be surprised if you truly felt that way.

Donate to real charities that do real work with little (or no) unnecessary overhead and don't waste a nickel on horrible manuscripts from the dark ages (the bible). Consider Doctors Without Borders, Engineers Without Borders, The Red Cross, etc.

The other email raised questions that I, too, have. Nothing in your response countered my suggestion that little (if any) money went to actually helping people. I'm hopeful (but doubt) that such is not the case.

On to your third point, my wife would have to agree with you - you probably aren't going to win over too many people. In that respect, I really do appreciate your letter and its candor. Mark's response to you shows that it did have the effect I'd hope for (it was rather concerning - "follow the party line or we'll cut your funding" is a very much what a Christian should say).

I don't believe, however, that you need a man-made document (of myths) to give people "hope". I have always been willing to concede that churches offer a "community" that is not easily replaced but it can be and it will be - when the religious no longer get the undue respect they demand.

The gospels are not true. They hold no value today and we're much, much more moral than what scripture would ever lead us to be. They don't hold the answers to the problems of individuals or of the world. An education from a number of books (not just one) would do wonders for the situations that most people are in. The truth should never be sacrificed to provide a false sense of comfort.

On a different note, I understand your reasoning for editing my comment for Mark - and I ask you do a little bit more :) The "salt" to "shalt" and the "tot" to "too".

As for the drinks and M&Ms - they won't go to waste - we'll sit down and talk at some point. I just, as a professional, am not allowed, in our community, to have an opinion of my own. (Mark's response to your blog is a perfect example!)

Unknown said...

Can I just say that the past couple of days of reading blogs from you both has been incredibly refreshing. I appreciate the honesty that you both exude - can't wait to read more of your dialogue. Like I said to Nathan, I would love to be a fly on the wall, should the day come when you both have your M&M date. Thanks for your honesty - and if it means anything, whether you think you are allowed (or not) to state your opinion, I do like what you have to say:)...