OPINION: The question "what would Jesus do?" is one that is often asked by Christians to remind themselves that his example is one they should follow in daily life.
That question is one church leaders would do well to ask themselves as they seek to finance their churches. If they were honest, the answer would be that Jesus would have been very unlikely to accept as donations the life savings of an ageing partial tetraplegic with head injuries.
Yesterday The Dominion Post reported that a Napier church had taken at least $20,000 in donations from Whetu Abraham, a rest home resident. Those caring for him had tried to stop the donations, and rest home manager Lucy Dever believes what the Oasis Elim Church has done is unethical, immoral and un-Christian.
Mr Abraham says he gave the money because of his faith, and because of his simple understanding that "you help them, they help you".
Church pastor Bruce Collingwood says the money was given willingly by Mr Abraham "out of his own heart", and he was comfortable about taking it after he and Mr Abraham had talked about Mr Abraham's financial and medical situation.
Others, including the church's national body, are not.
The relationship between churches and money has been fraught ever since Jesus drove the moneychangers from the temple.
It still is in 2010. Earlier this year the Destiny Church came under fire from some who had been involved with it because of what they said was constant pressure over tithing and donations.
There has long been concern over the impact of church donations on the budgets of some Pacific Island families, and the pressures put on families to donate. A 2005 Women's Affairs Ministry study revealed some Pasifika women made tithing 10 per cent of their incomes to the church their top financial priority, before they paid any of their bills and other family expenses.
It is idle to pretend that churches do not need funding to carry out their work. Ministers need incomes – though some would question whether those need to be as large as they are in some cases – buildings need to be built and maintained, rates and electricity bills need to be paid. Some of the older, more established churches can use land holdings and other investments built up over the years to help with the finances, but others must rely almost solely on their communities to support them. That is reasonable.
It should also be remembered that churches do good work, often through providing succour to the poor, whether at home or through their overseas aid agencies. One need look no further than the assistance provided in Wellington by the City Mission and the Salvation Army for evidence of that. That good work also depends on donations.
There is no doubt the money Mr Abraham gave will help the Oasis Elim Church, but churches depend on their moral authority as much as their bank balances. For many, accepting large sums from a sick man who had little to begin with diminishes that authority to near bankruptcy.
- © Fairfax NZ News