I can't believe how long it's been since my last post. Sorry to leave all of you hanging for so long...see how I assume there are lots of people reading this blog? Anyway, it's the busiest season of the year for me and I've been travelling a lot. Even more than I expected and that was already a lot. Right now I'm in Massachusetts on my way to New Hampshire. Last week I was in Mississippi and I was again reminded just what suckers Christians can be.
I'm not trying to be mean, just honest. In my last post I mentioned my shock at the misappropriation of $1.4 billion hurricane relief dollars. The truth is, I wasn't all that shocked because I know that any time you pour that much money into a place as destroyed and disorganized as the gulf region there are plenty of people waiting to trundle off with wheelbarrows of cash for their own pockets. It's bad enough when that cash is government money (which is really our money, but once the government takes it out of our checks we seem to forget that) but what about the people down there who are ripping off churches? I had the unpleasant experience of meeting some folks in Mississippi who are fleecing well meaning church groups that are just looking for a way to help all those devastated by the hurricanes.
A group of "friends" got together and built a little "camp" and they're renting out space to church groups and others who want to help with the recovery effort. Large and well-known churches, like Willow Creek from South Barrington, Illinois, have sent teams to stay at the camp. The problem is, the leaders of this camp appear to be taking advantage of good-hearted church folk. They promise lodging and food for the fee they charge. However, the lodging is dangerous, with exposed electrical wiring and raw sewage spewing out into an open cesspool just in back of the cabins and much of the food appears to be donated goods that are past the expiration date and stored under a canopy outside in the hot, humid Mississippi summer. While other, legitimate outfits are providing fresh food prepared by paid staff and delivered by reputable food vendors, these bottom-feeders are serving donated food on donated plates relying on the volunteers to provide the labor and they're pocketing tens of thousands of dollars. Much of the money coming from well-meaning churches that don't seem to be demanding an explanation for the treatment they're receiving for what they've paid.
While I'm angry at these ammoral con artists lining their pockets off the misery of the poor souls in the Gulf region, I'm equally upset that churches have continued to go there for nearly ten months without taking any action to stop these people. Why is it that we, as Christians, seem inclined to let people kick us around and take advantage of us? There is nothing Biblical about allowing ourselves to be taken advantage of. The church could stand to grow a little spine when it comes to dealing with the world. There are those who will take all we have to give and laugh all the way to the bank. I'm not saying that Christians shouldn't help others. We should. And in the process we may, occasionally get taken advantage of. It's when we discover those who are willfully taking advantage of us and stealing resources that could be better used in service of those who truly need it that we should stand up and demand accountability. Unfortunately, the church often isn't practiced at asking for accountability from anyone...pastors, members, leaders, etc. so when the time comes to strenuously pursue it, we aren't very good at it. And the world sees us as a bunch of suckers. Maybe we are.
Jesus stormed the temple and demanded accountability from the money changers in the temple who were ripping people off in the name of religion. The practice he attacked had developed around people's need to keep the law. Since the temple in Jerusalem had become the only legitimate place of worship and sacrifice people needed to bring their animal sacrifices there. Bringing animals a long way on pilgrimage was difficult at best. So people would sell their best animals at home, carry the money to Jerusalem, exchange the money at the temple and buy an animal for sacrifice. A good plan until people started taking advantage. The money changers would manipulate the exchange rate so you got less money at the temple than you brought in (money changers have to make a profit). Then, the animal sellers weren't selling the best animals, they were selling blemished and lame animals for sacrifice. In the end the well-meaning folks trying to adhere to God's commands were giving up their best animals, losing money and ultimately offering an inferior sacrifice by the time the whole process was over. This whole process is being repeated in Mississippi...and elsewhere, I'd imagine.
Well-meaning churches following God's command to care for the lost, broken, hurting and homeless, are gathering funds at home, traveling to the Gulf and handing it over to charlatans. Their contribution is diminished by these criminals and I'm angry about that. I'm angry, too, that the church keeps letting it happen. Let's all continue to help, but let's call those who are profiting from this tragedy to account!