SEPARATION

Once a month I watched my Dad sit down with his checkbook and write a check for ten percent of his monthly income to be placed in the tithing bowl at Sunday service. He did this every month even during times of financial struggle and instability. Which really, was most of the time I can remember. We lived paycheck to paycheck, just like I do now and just like about 78% of all Americans do today. Our pastor would have special sermons on tithing where he'd preach that if you only have one nickel to your name, you should give that nickel to the church. Occasionally we would hear about the missionaries our tithes went to and occasionally we would even have a special sermon from an actual missionary. Mostly though, our tithing money went to pay for our pastor's salary and upkeep of the church. 

Our paster and his family lived in a nice home and drove an expensive car. Our church owned a couple of buses and vans that picked up people in the community for church service or carted our youth group to the roller rink or bowling alley. There were times when we would all be rounded up to go 'witnessing' in neighborhoods. 'Witnessing' is when you share your personal come to Jesus story with others in hopes that you can convince them to open their hearts to the Lord. I was not good at witnessing, probably because my personal come to Jesus story was just a regurgitation of what everyone's come to Jesus story was. I said the words I was told to say and often they felt false and tasted sour. But I went along with it any way because I had a hard enough time fitting in at that church. We were never rounded up to go help out in soup kitchens or sort clothes for the needy. 

I remember walking into Sunday school one Sunday morning as a teenager and finding the room divided. We were told to pick a side. If you believed in abortion, you sat on the left. If you believed abortion was a horrible horrible thing that should be illegal, you sat on the right. I sat on the left. By myself. I argued that I could never make that kind of choice for another person. I knew there were circumstances that made abortion a necessary choice. I understood the value in quality of a life versus quantity of life. I didn't expect to change minds, but I couldn't with all good conscience sit on the right side of that classroom. This was when things really started to change for me personally with that church. Not long after that Sunday, I received a letter in the mail. I remember being excited at first because I hardly ever found a letter in our mailbox with my name on it. Then I opened the letter and began to read from Anonymous how I was a terrible Christian and that if I didn't change my ways, I was sure to end up in Hell. 

Sometimes I wish I had held onto that letter. Instead, I tore it up and threw it away. I knew that letter was because I had sat on the left side that day. I knew that letter was because I was starting to stand up for the things I believed in. Even if those things were not in line with the views of that church. That letter wiped away any need I had to say whatever needed to be said or do whatever needed doing to fit in. I walked completely away from that church in 1995. I was in my second year of college, but still attending church services when I was home visiting out of respect for my parents. Chris was with me and we were sitting in on the College and Career class. We sat there and listened with shock about how we should never question authority, because God put that person in authority. We left that Sunday school class and kept on walking. I never looked back. Our so called church family didn't really seem to miss me either and I'm okay with that. 

The Johnson Amendment was started in 1954 to prevent non-profits from endorsing or opposing political candidates. This means that non-profits can't financially contribute either way towards an election. Republicans have been trying to repeal this for years and they may finally do it with this new tax plan. Their argument is that it restricts free speech.

Corporations, and any community chest, fund, or foundation, organized and operated exclusively for religious, charitable, scientific, testing for public safety, literary, or educational purposes, or to foster national or international amateur sports competition (but only if no part of its activities involve the provision of athletic facilities or equipment), or for the prevention of cruelty to children or animals, no part of the net earnings of which inures to the benefit of any private shareholder or individual, no substantial part of the activities of which is carrying on propaganda, or otherwise attempting, to influence legislation (except as otherwise provided in subsection (h)), and which does not participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office

In 2004, the state of Oklahoma had two particular State Questions on the ballot. The first was State Question 705 that would allow the state of Oklahoma to create a lottery commission. The other was State Question 711 that would define a marriage as one man and one woman. Both State Questions passed by 65% and 75% of the vote respectively. When I asked my mother how she had voted on these issues, she said that she voted in favor of both. Her reason for voting 'yes' on SQ711 was that she was voting the bible. The hypocrisy of her answer riled me. It still does, but I know that her voting decisions were highly influenced by the church. You see, along with those sermons that our Pastor would give about tithing, he'd also give about who to vote for and how to vote. The Johnson Amendment did not restrict our Pastor's free speech. It just restricted how he could spend the money we gave to him every week in tithes. 

The removal of the Johnson Amendment means that the money a person tithes can and probably will go to fund political campaigns and inflammatory advertisements against certain candidates. When I think about this, I think about the church I was raised in and how they would be spending my tithe. I remember sitting in a divided room. I remember getting the hate mail. I remember the hypocrisy of a church that preaches against equal rights while at the same time endorsing gambling. The hypocrisy of choosing pieces of the bible to follow and ignore. As a child I was delusional and believed that the dollar I placed in the tithing bowl was going to feed the hungry, that my money was going to help someone in need. Now I'm just sickened by the thought of how my tithe would be used today.