From time to time, in my more pessimistic moments, I’ve thought that our church maintains a conspiracy of silence on money and giving. “Conspiracy” is probably too strong a word, so let’s call it an unconscious collusion not to talk about those things.
Bishop Michael Pryse has spoken about what he calls a middle-class taboo against discussing money. People who have little money aren’t reluctant to tell others how much they earn, or how they struggle to pay the bills. And people who have a lot of money are happy to flaunt their wealth through conspicuous consumption or (seemingly) casual conversations about their large homes or their vacation trips. But those of us in the middle are pretty tight-lipped when it comes to revealing any information about our personal financial circumstances. We don’t want to be thought of as having too much money or too little, so we maintain a discreet, uptight embargo on the subject.
When you were growing up, were you privy to the specifics of household income and spending? Have you let your own kids in on these sorts of details? Me neither.
In my experience this taboo extends to the subject of charitable giving, including giving to the church. I’ve encountered people who aren’t even sure how much they put on the offering plate, often because their spouse makes that decision and they never discuss it between them.
The process of creating a culture of generous giving may need to begin with breaking the silence. We all should know how much we’re giving now and the reasons behind it. Wouldn’t it be great if we understood the attitudes and habits formed in childhood that now direct our behaviour as adults? What would happen if we could identify the ways our faith interacts with cultural norms to shape our practices?
Imagine what it would be like to explore these questions with others, in a context that is safe and supportive.
A couple of years ago, under the personal leadership of Bishop Susan Johnson, the ELCIC created and distributed a resource called “Conversation on Gratitude and Generosity“. It is an outline for a 30-minute dialogue on our personal theology, attitudes and practices that has been used at meetings of National Church Council, Synod Councils and congregational councils across the church.
If you haven’t already done so, why not download the file and consider using it with a group in your congregation? If we can’t talk about this stuff, how will we ever be able to change?