To Steal, Perchance to Tithe

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.


In other words, a stingy Christian steals 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  

7 comments:

Anonymous said... December 28, 2009 at 4:26 PM  

This post brings to mind David's words in 1 Chronicles 29:14b:
"For all things come from You, and from Your hand we have given You."
Yep, you're so right! A stingy Christian steals from God.

(I confess. I admired Tucker Rue.)

Anonymous said... December 28, 2009 at 7:10 PM  

So, would God call it stealing if someone is too poor to tithe? Does God remove blessings from those that has to choose between paying tithes and eating? I am sure that if they could, they would tithe if there situation was different...not trying to sound like I am being defensive. I am trying to gain some understanding......

Athol Dickson said... December 29, 2009 at 8:02 AM  

Anonymous, if you read the post carefully you'll realize I'm talking about sharing the blessings God has given, not those He has not given.

Click on the link to Matthew 25 in the blog above, and review the parable of the talents. Note that Jesus says some of the servants were given less than others, and the master did not expect as much from them. But even the servant who was given only one talent was expected to put it to work for the master.

"The poor man and the oppressor have this in common: The LORD gives sight to the eyes of both." (Proverbs 29:13 NIV)

Everyone is given some kind of blessing, so everyone can pass it on. An extremely poor person may not be able to give money, but what about time? What about a sympathetic ear? A helping hand?

There are as many ways to be generous as there are blessings in the world, and God's blessings are unlimited. Many times in my life I've noticed something very strange: the poor are often far more generous than the rich. I think that's because the poor, having less wealth, have less temptation to place their faith in wealth.

Just as there are many ways to pass our blessings on, so there are many ways to steal from God through withholding blessings. Consider this:

"He who is kind to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will reward him for what he has done." (Proverbs 19:17 NIV)

Notice it doesn't say, "He who gives money to the poor..." but rather, "He who is kind to the poor..." Even the poorest among us can be kind, and often that means so much more than money.

Trinity Arts - LIVE! said... December 29, 2009 at 12:12 PM  

Athol,

Your observations have triggered an interesting project/behavior for me; something which I will be initiating this week.

Thank you,
Gary

Sally Apokedak said... January 2, 2010 at 2:00 PM  

Well, Athol, you are surely a thoughtful and provocative man, I'll give you that.

I was disturbed by several of the characters in your book.

I'm happy to hear your reasoning for making Tucker do some of the things he did.

Yes, we should give generously.

I keep thinking there is only one tiny space of time when I will be able to serve Christ by serving the poor and needy. He identifies with his suffering brothers here so, as you say, when we serve them, we are serving him. But once we pass from this short place we occupy in time and enter into eternity there will no more suffering brothers and we won't be able to serve Christ in this unique way again.

I have passed up many chances to serve him here, I'm sorry to say.

I enjoyed The Lost Mission and think it's an important book, even though I did find it disturbing.

Tim George said... January 4, 2010 at 6:28 AM  

That news story once again proves the theory we can't dream up anything stranger than life itself. Good thoughts on giving.

Athol Dickson said... January 4, 2010 at 7:23 AM  

Gary, I'm glad to be an inspiration to you for a change. Your poetry has certainly inspired me in times past.

Sally, it's great to know you enjoyed LOST MISSION and you think it's important, and you know what? I'm also glad it was a little bit disturbing! Although I do try to give hours of reading pleasure, the ideas in that story shouldn't leave anyone feeling comfortable.

Tim, I couldn't agree more. So many times I've read amazing stories in the news and been inspired to include them in a novel, but then thought, "No, if I wrote that, readers would say I'm being unrealistic." :)

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