The struggle of giving
OPINION: Every Sunday my Nana would emerge from her room dressed in her ironed puletasi, pearl earrings, faux fur collar coat, cartwheel hat and shoes that were reserved for special occasions.
by Ria Reigns I 15 May 2020
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Sunday was different, it seemed more peaceful than any other day of the week. My peace however was always disturbed by a common practice of the Pacific Island church that we attended and that was the reading out at each Sunday service the monetary contribution/tithing given by each family. This practice acts as a silent influencer to the amount members contribute, exacerbated because giving in general is inherent in PI culture, but this type of giving is not in line with the original purpose of tithing. It is detrimental to the Pacific people and is a major contributor to the debt they face and this practice should be disestablished.
There are social environmental and emotional techniques common in coercive persuasion that can produce substantial behavior and attitude changes which I thought could be a way to describe the effect this practice of reading out members' monetary contributions has. Using this term however would also suggest there is some ill intent behind the practice, and I don’t believe this to be true of our churches or our church leaders. So I coined the term silent influencer. The church leaders can either stand at the pulpit and say to their congregation “give us as much money as you can find and you will go to the top of the praise list, bless the church financially and you in turn will be blessed” or they can read out your family name and how much you gave each week; both options produces the same outcome, the latter obviously having a lower risk of causing outrage. The Pacific Island culture is embedded in faith, respect and service to others and therefore this practice produces results beneficial to the churches funds. To act against it would be to go against everything we are raised to do. Vea Mafile’o co-director of For my Father’s Kingdom says “Church and culture can’t be separated, they’re intertwined” which she discovered during her family’s documented journey of trying to understand why her Father gives so much money to his church among other things.
I remember asking Nana why she would give so much to the church and she would reply with - Never question the work of the Lord - Well it was not the work of the Lord that I was questioning. As we know “God’s intention” and what has been created by “religion” can be two very different things; but we can save that opinion post for another time. Well Nana, I would say; Leviticus 27:30 (GNB) says only “One-tenth of all produce of the land, whether grain or fruit, belongs to the Lord” and the word tithe comes from the Old English word teogotha, which means “tenth”. So Nana, based on this you are only obliged to give 10% of your income to the Lord!! Yeah ok; I never actually replied like that to Nana because firstly she knew the bible way more than I did and secondly, I wanted to keep my teeth! Whether it was out of fear or respect that I didn’t verbally challenge my Nana’s ideology, internally I held the belief that 10% of your income was the goal not the starting point.
An Otara lawyer shares with NZ Herald that she sees clients who “go without food or become bankrupt rather than miss a payment to their family church”. It saddens me to think that some Pacific Island people feel the need to give more than they can afford. I always thought the intended purpose of tithes was to help support missionary work so that the Word of God could be spread further. However, what I have experienced is that it is being used to build and maintain oversized churches and facilities, house and support Ministers and contribute to fa’alavelaves. The problem is that the more you spend the contributions on, the more you need to gather and who does the church turn to for finance but their struggling Pasifika families. 2 Corinthians 8:12 (NIV) For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have. It does beg the question as to why the institution that should be teaching and following the word of God is allowing members to suffer by giving beyond their means.
Mother Theresa said, “It’s not how much we give but how much love we put into giving”. Was it that you loved giving, or did you love the feeling you get when you heard your family name called out as having given the highest amount to the church that week? The latter was more likely, not because we are boastful people but more so because giving equates to service, and acts of service is inherent in our culture and you of course would feel good that you are contributing in a manner that pleases your culture. Do I think that leaders of churches carry out this practice on purpose knowing that it is the way to get more offerings? No - I don’t think there is purposeful ill intent behind this practice, but I also don’t believe they are completely unaware of the effect of it either. Ten years ago, after my Nanas passing I left the PI church and started attending a palagi church, so I do not know if this is still a common practice. However, if it is still being practiced, then it is time for the leaders of these institutions to take off their shades and see the suffering caused by over extended giving and disestablish a practice that is contributing to the problem. Our people should be able to give freely from their heart and within their means without the cloud of shame that not doing so may bring. Doing so could be the start of a greater movement of helping our Pacific Island families move towards securing financial freedom.