Many U.S. Christians pay tithe before mortgage, even in crisis

September 24, 2008

House foreclosure sign in Boston, 15 March 2007/Brian SnyderIf there is one thing you can usually count upon while working as a journalist in the United States – and in particular if you happen to be British like myself – is that Americans are not only unafraid of talking to the media, many do so without hesitation. It is an endearing characteristic of the American people, a wonderful sign that they are not afraid to stand up and be heard.

But in the six months that I spent working on my feature “For many Christians, it’s God before mortgage” that ran on Sept 21, I ran into a wall of silence for the first time since coming to work in the United States three years ago.

It all began back in February, while working on a series of feature stories that I compiled on the U.S. housing crisis. In interviews with non-profit counsellors in Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, Atlanta and then Memphis, the subject of tithing and how some struggling home owners would rather lose their homes than cease their payments to the church kept coming up.

At first in Chicago, I confess that I all but ignored the topic. I was focused on trying to get a handle on the scale of the housing meltdown and its implications – the fallout of which has been all too evident on Wall Street in recent weeks. Interesting, I thought to myself, how someone’s obligation to God and the church would take precedence over their earthly home, and filed away the comments for later use.

But as February turned to March and April and interviews in Atlanta, Memphis, then St Louis, Dallas brought up the same topic again and again, I knew I had found a fascinating story. Getting counsellors, religious leaders, academics and researchers to comment on the story was no problem – but the difficult part was finding a home owner to talk about it.

Non-profit groups that have spoken to hundreds of thousands of stricken home owners around the country while trying to deal with the biggest housing slowdown since the Great Depression agreed to put me in touch with tithing home owners who had chosen to lose their homes rather than break off their commitment to God.

Man reads pocket Bible, 7 July 2008/Mike SegarAgain and again over the course of four months, I received an email from a counsellor from Atlanta or Memphis, upstate New York or southern California telling me that they had found a home owner I could talk to for my story. But more often than not, those home owners changed their minds when they answered the phone, or when I turned up on their doorstep to talk. “It’s too personal,” was the almost inevitable explanation.

Those who would talk did so warily and always – to my dismay – having stated quite clearly that anything they had to say was off-the-record and that under no circumstances did they want their names to appear in the press.

Finally, in August, I tracked down a woman in St Louis who said she would talk to me for my story and agreed to do so on-the-record. But as she was recovering from surgery, she asked me to call her in a week to talk. On the verge of what I saw as a key step – providing a real person as an illustration for my story – I readily agreed.

But when I called back a week later, she had changed her mind. “I don’t want people thinking I’m crazy,” she said. We talked at great length about her faith, her commitment to God and that after 30 years of tithing to the church she would rather face foreclosure than break that contract with her God.

She told me in detail about the good works of her church, why tithing mattered so much to her. She relished the chance to talk but after an hour on the phone it was clear there was nothing I could do to persuade her to let me use her name.

Home for sale sign in Perris, California, 4 May 2007/Mark AveryAt this point I had reached a dead-end. After six months, I knew I was unlikely to find a home owner to talk on-the-record. Academics and religious researchers told me this came as no surprise because tithing is such a deeply personal and private issue and said I should give up on trying to find anyone to talk. So this left me and my bureau chief in Chicago, Peter Bohan, facing a dilemma.

What we had was a story that shed some light on how much faith matters to some Americans, to the extent where it is more important than their homes. But we had no one to link that story to. After much deliberation, we decided that the story was simply too interesting to let it go and we decided it had to go to print.

That said, I am still searching for a passionate, tithing American Christian who has lost their home rather than give up making payments to the church and is willing to talk to me about it. Next time, I’d like to use someone’s name.

Anyone out there ready to talk?

8 comments

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I am surprised that you are having trouble trying to find people who are willing to share their story. Most of the time, people are very bold about their tithing. Even as they lose their house, they feel as if their decision will reap a grin from their God. I mean really. If they think God is happy for them, then they usually are willing to share why. Unless, they really do think that their actions are literally crazy and foolish. My guess for the reason why you can’t find anybody is because people know what they are doing is not right, but they use tithing as a spiritual quest to appease their guilty conscience.

-Jared

[...] rather tithe than lose their house. Consider my post a continuation from the last post. The author stated on Reuters how he had trouble finding anyone who would give their name and publicly announce that they are [...]

[...] Many US Christians pay tithe before mortgage, even in crisis [...]

as a person on social security disability, not tithing now, but paying a percentage of my gross income to church ahead of my rent and of anything else, this is an essential part of observing my faith in God and of turning myself over to him in trust of his providence. not once has he ever let me down. God honors this tiny token of my trust in him and has blessed me beyond compare. i am very thankful for all he has done for me.

Posted by Marion Brewer | Report as abusive

I foreclosed on a home in 2006. I returned 10% of all God gave me and kept the rest for my family and I. Its a matter of which obligation is greater. Name: Jay Benson

Posted by Jay | Report as abusive

A Church’s Footprint in the Community 

(An article about a church tithing to its community and making a “footprint” in its community.)

http://groups.google.com/group/aardvarks -library/web/a-churchs-footprint-in-the- community?hl=en

I just read your article on “Joe the Plumber.” I found the following paragraph to be odd and out of place in the article:

“Reporters later learned that Wurzelbacher did not have a plumbing license, was behind on his taxes, had a real first name of Sam, and was unmarried with a teenage son.”

What does his first name and his marital/parental status have to do with the story? It appears it was only put in there to discredit him. I think the part about the plumbing license and his tax status was also out of place and meant to discredit him, but I guess is has a slight relation to the story. Tell me, does a citizen lose their right to complain about taxes just because they owe taxes? And is it necessary to have a plumber’s license to be called a plumber? I am an engineer but I am not a licensed engineer. Nice way to take irrelevant pot shots at the guy.

I am looking forward to you pointing out irrelevant negative facts about the Obamas in your stories on them too. You are a great journalist (ha ha ha). Keep up the good work (another joke)!!!!

Posted by Rick | Report as abusive

The reason, I think, that you have difficulty finding someone to talk to is that if you have to ask why you probably will never understand.

America has never been reliant on Government to perform works of charity and the majority of Americans seem to be sick of both political parties spending us into oblivion. Churches set up food banks and shelters and clothing drives while the welfare state requires someone to sell their car before they can receive any assistance.

Perhaps the author would do well to do some introspection first before continuing this story. One must possess faith before one can understand it.

Posted by S | Report as abusive

My wife and I are going through a terrible time. Bad times do not change our commitment to God nor His commitment to us. Its times like these when we draw closer to Him. We are in foreclosure and we tithe. First fruits is what the Bible says. There’s a reason for that. We consider it an honor to tithe. God doesn’t need our money ,He wants our heart. Most people’s hearts are attached to their money. Tithing makes our faith stronger. He has sustained us through so much. He will sustain us through this. If you are not a believer I wouldn’t expect you to understand. Faith in Him makes us stronger. Tithing to us is just part of that faith building. It is very personal. That’s why no one wants their name in the media about it.

Posted by Ken S | Report as abusive

I, for one, am glad that I don’t have a commitment to an imaginary being who would sooner see me lose my home than give money to his earth-bound receptionists.

It is humours to see folks go on about being on social security disability, but then say god has never failed them. If that’s the case shouldn’t you be, well, not on disability?

Suggesting that one needs faith to understand is a crock. I had “faith” thrust upon me for most of my life. It never really made sense… why would some omnipotent sky-being refuse to use his powers to help us? Why would he create us in his own image, but then cast us out for eating a fruit he created. Why did he create evil?

Too many holes, too many logical fallacies. If it came down to my house and sky-man, I would hope that sky-man would want me to keep the house to raise more little sky-man believers. If you’re chopping off a chunk of your income so your “pastor” can drive a gold plated Lexus then you just might be doing it wrong.

Posted by GMWilliams | Report as abusive