To Steal, Perchance to Tithe
Monday, December 28, 2009
Sometimes art imitates life, but sometimes it’s the other way around. Those of you who have already read Lost Mission may remember Tucker Rue, the founder of a storefront mission in a poor Southern California barrio. Tucker is concerned about the American church's tithing problem, and I think he’s got good reason to be worried. A survey by the Barna Group famously determined that only 6 percent of Americans who called themselves “born again Christians” gave 10 percent or more of their income to churches and charities during the recession of 2002. (For more on stingy people who claim to follow Jesus, see Ron Sider’s 1977 classic, Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger.) I haven’t seen statistics on what the current recession has done to Christian giving, but this is an age old problem, which surely will remain with us until the end of days. In Lost Mission, Tucker Rue decides to resolve it by stealing from rich Christians to give to the poor.
A missionary who steals to help the poor . . . does that shock you?
That was certainly my intention when I wrote the Tucker Rue character. In Flannery O'Conner's classic book on writing Christian fiction, Mystery and Manners, she said a novelist must sometimes use “violent literary means to get his vision across to a hostile audience, and the images and actions he creates may seem distorted and exaggerated.” Following that strategy I invented Tucker Rue as a wild exaggeration, a larger-than-life example of the bad mistake we Christians often make by trying to solve spiritual problems with earthly strategies. But a Christian minister who steals from those who will not tithe . . . even with O’Connor’s advice in mind I wondered if readers would consider it too outrageous.
Now it turns out Tucker Rue may not have been violent enough, or distorted or exaggerated or outrageous enough, because believe it or not, there’s a Christian minister in the real world who is advocating much the same approach. Check it out.
At first I watched that video and marveled that a vicar would seriously suggest shoplifting for the poor, but after giving it some thought I decided there isn’t much difference between that and hoarding God’s blessings for myself. In Matthew 25, Jesus makes it crystal clear that God has blessed me so I can bless the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the sick and the prisoner. Jesus says to the extent that I give to needy people I give to God, and to the extent that I withhold blessings from them, I withhold from God.
With countless blessings in my life, as I consider year-end giving during this final week of 2009, that thought really hit home.
Posted byAthol Dickson at 6:55 AM