Friday, July 12: Philadelphia, PA 4:15pm - At Netroots Nation
Location: PA Convention Center, 1101 Arch Street, Philadelphia, PA
Become a Thom Supporter- Click the Patreon button
I believe the second hour guest was named Mrs. Potter, the one who spoke about Social Security and Medicare. Her belief is that churches and families should help the poor and least among us. The claim that the government is interfering with their ability to do what they are doing is, in my opinion, completely unfounded. I would like to hear some irrefutable facts before I take that claim seriously. If anything, we know that at least some churches are not following the words of Christ when he said “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s; render unto God what is God’s.” They are not rendering unto Caesar in that they agreed not to pay taxes since they agreed to stay out of political matters. I am not saying this is every church, I do not know what every church does. But I can certainly provide examples of church leaders, heads of ministries and the like endorsing political candidates, actively working in government through lobbying and political pressure. Yet, these same people have no qualms about not paying taxes despite the fact that the same Jesus they claim to emulate clearly said to do that very thing.
I am not sure how much this is covered in the media, but mainstream denomination churches are dying out. In the region of my state, urban mainstream churches such as the Catholic church, some Methodist churches, and many Lutheran churches are closing their doors due to poor membership and therefore, no money. I am not a fan of organized religion for many reasons (see my username, Evangelical Christianity in particular) but I will not deny that some of these urban churches in particular are filling a need in their communities. A NEED, not every single need. Some have provided clothing and food pantries. Some have two meals a day. It HELPS. It is not the cure. Far from it. One of the main costs of living is housing and utilities. I have yet to see one church be able to provide for those needs. I do know of churches and Catholic organizations who can give some assistance if your bill is under $100 on a one or few time basis. There are programs that help with electric bills and in a good year, you can get one tank of oil or discount on your gas. But one tank of oil in a Northeast or Midwest winter will not get you anywhere near the amount needed if you are living in poverty. As far as housing, even if you are living in poverty, just renting a single resident occupancy room in the cheapest of towns will cost around $75 for the cheapest of cheap rooms. And those are few and far between. The reality is that you will not live for under $400 a month unless you receive some sort of government assistance for housing. If you are living on $1000 a month, under those circumstances you will be spending 40 percent of your money on housing.
Where the money is in churches these days are the growing Evangelical so-called megachurches. I will give you an instance in my area. There is a suburban church that within the last 15 years grew to over several thousand members. They are located in a wealthy suburb and attract members from that area. There are some prominent business members who are part of the church and have been over the years. They built the building they are in in the late 1990s and have had to build more to accommodate the growing membership and attendees. What they also built was a church with two gyms. One, the average kind of gym that most large churches have. The other is a fully functioning gym with athletic equipment found at Gold’s Gym or some other large fitness gym. The rationale was that it was a gateway to get people involved in the church. Meet their needs first is their mantra. And of course, when you are a struggling family needing to put food on your table, you immediately think of the church that has a functioning fitness center for you. The church also has a coffee bar and photography center. They do have a lot of activities for children. However, not one of them is free. The cost for any activity can range from $10-$15. This church is located in the suburb of a high poverty area. In these evangelical churches (this one is affiliated with a Pentecostal church) they are strongly focused on missions. They give money to the denomination, to projects in other countries, and they do support missionaries. They do pay for their needs to go abroad and make sure their housing is taken care of when they are stateside. They also pay a small salary in some cases. And, their focus is not just on good works such as feeding the hungry, providing clothing, or healthcare. They are focused on proselytizing. Once again, they might provide a few of those basic needs under the guise of “get them hooked”. They do not do it for compassionate reasons. They do it so that they can convert followers. And, the pastors of this church are living quite well. Their homes are paid for, plus a salary, an allowance for phone and electric. The only thing the pastors pay for themselves is sinful cable TV if they choose (I am not joking). Most of them have a spouse that works either part or full-time. But as far as reaching out to the community and meeting the needs of the poor, ZERO. Nothing. Even if you are poor and want your children to attend their summer bible school, you have to pay. There are no clothing drives, no food given out, or anything. There are plenty of money in these megachurches. Look at high profile people such as Joel Osteen. I cannot say what they do for the poor and underprivileged in Houston, I just don’t know. But every church I have attended of an Evangelical nature do not in any way reach out to the poor in their communities. The most they will provide is transportation to the so-called “inner cities”.
I struggled over the past seven years with job loss, twice since 2009. I finally got back to full employment a year ago, but it was a struggle before that. That included the winter of 2015 which was the second coldest in our state’s history. That winter, I had 475 gallons of oil the entire winter. With a 275 gallon tank, that means I could not afford to fill up my tank even two times. I approached some of the churches in the area, and nobody could or would help. During that time, my computer broke as well. As you know in this day and age, you cannot search for a job without a computer. Again, I approached the churches and asked if they might ask some of their parishioners if they might have a used computer to donate. Most would not even honor my request to ask. I was not asking for a new computer, I just know in this day and age one person’s trash is another person’s treasure. To be fair, I also approached some charitable organizations in the area and nobody would or could help, either. I am sure some of you reading might ask why I approached churches if I am so critical of them. It is more about their teaching, but I do believe if they are loving people then they should be willing to help out regardless of church affiliation. I understand that the church is not The Price Is Right. They don’t have the resources to help everyone in need. But right now, the churches with the most money in them are NOT doing for those in need. They are doing for themselves and doing for the idea of proselytization.
And that is the problem. At best, churches might be able to provide some clothing, some food and is heavily dependent upon whether an individual in the church might be able to assist. They simply do not have the ability to provide en masse for the ever increasing population living in poverty. They can’t pay for housing, cars, other transportation, and healthcare. Those are the things that people in poverty struggle with the most. It is simply not possible. As far as families taking care of their own, good luck with that. As Tom suggested, that the families that are able to "help" the most are upper middle class. How is a family making $30,000 supposed to pick up their relatives who are living in poverty when they are barely making it on that kind of money? I believe there was a statistic a few years ago that said that 2/3 of the country does not have even $2,000 for an emergency. How are all of these families supposed to help people that can barely afford to help themselves? This is also assuming that all families are loving and will help if they have the resources.
The scariest thing about all of this is that the next administration believe exactly what the guest today was espousing. I live above the so-called poverty line but believe me, I am still struggling. I am one that could face a change to my healthcare which I can hardly afford anyway. Not ONCE did Donald Trump ever mention the poor. Truth be told, neither did Hillary. She might have, but in the sideshow that was our presidential election how would we even know? The only real advocate for the poor and working poor, the elderly that stand to lose their Social Security benefits is fortunately still speaking out vociferously from the Senate. Actually, I should say two, he and Elizabeth Warren, but she was not a presidential candidate.
I understand some people have faith in their churches and in their families, but the reality is much more stark. Most families are more dysfunctional than loving, many are not in the position to help even if they wanted to. As far as churches dying out, I have my issues with organized religion because of my experience with it. That doesn't mean that churches cannot be a source of good for the communities they serve. While I strongly, vehemently disagree with some of the tenets and discrimination of the Catholic church, we have to consider some of the people like the Pope, Sr. Simone Campbell, and the countless others who espouse an agenda of economic equality. UCC and Episcopalian churches are more liberal and accepting of everyone, and those churches are also being hit hardly. It is the anti-gay, fend for yourself Evangelical churches that are putting smaller churches out to the pasture. Isn't religious capitalism grand?