The Money and The Power
First published on THE QUO – September 9th, 2017
ach week, I would watch my mother withdraw our family’s spending budget from the ATM at the shopping centre. Hunched over her aged brown purse, its spongy stuffing bursting out of the seam, she would carefully portion out the amounts – groceries in the back notes section; spending in the front notes section; and rolled up in the side would be the tithes. It was usually a mix of a fifty, twenty and maybe a ten, depending on Mum and Dad’s gross income for the week – but always 10 per cent. Mum was strict about portioning off the tithes first, and calculating the leftover budget afterwards, relaxing only when her purse was tucked safely in her bag, under her shoulder.
Growing up, we didn’t have much. We had what we needed, but the church always received the benefits of our parents’ hard work – even their unpaid labour. Dad ran the Christian answer to the Scouts – the Royal Rangers – organising close to 100 children into camping-themed activities with a Biblical flavour. He spent many weekends either on camps, training other adult volunteers, or conducting repairs and preparations for the organisation, often with supplies purchased out of his own pocket.
The church thrives on this kind of unquestioning contribution by its followers. Despite the intrinsic rewards – my father enjoyed interacting with children, and was putting his love of the outdoors to good use – these volunteer babysitters believed they were saving children’s souls as was their moral responsibility.
The social services provided by the church are unquestionably valuable to our society. Across the country Hillsong Church, Australia’s most famous version of my own childhood church’s Pentecostal denomination, provides care services to the aged, homeless and indigenous populations, as well as programs for youth and families; and those transitioning from prison. These services can comprise a hot meal with a haircut and a shower; medical treatment; workshops for self-care and conflict resolution; or legal support – all from volunteers.
According to the Hillsong website, their volunteers are at hand to provide a supportive community for these individuals by building relationships, giving encouragement and alternative options and referrals for further support.
Funding for the services comes from church and community donations, which are tax deductible when the organisation is set up as a public benevolent institution (PBI) – that is, one that whose main purpose is to relieve poverty, sickness, suffering or disability according to the Australian Taxation Office (ATO). Churches can register in this category due to their community work but also perhaps due to their own belief that they are providing ‘relief of suffering’- because they are saving us from the sin which has separated us from our place with God in the afterlife. However, according to the Australian Charities and Not-for-Profits Commission, [a]s long as a charity’s main purpose is benevolent, it can also have other non-benevolent purposes that are incidental…