Perhaps the only symbol more recognized by Christians than the cross is the dollar sign. Purists are filled with angst when we mention such realities, but those of us on the ground understand that without money, good things are much harder to accomplish. Without money we are not able to support staff, whether pastors or ministers, administrators or youth mentors who do good things. Finances supply food programs, educate preschoolers and provide assistance to the poor. Buildings that serve as gathering spaces, shelters for the lost and outcast, take funding to operate. Good things happen with money. Money is not bad, nor is it good, but is a tool to do good or bad in the communities we serve.
Giving USA estimates that $101 billion was given to religious organizations in 2010. It is an astounding number that represents the power of religion in our culture. The lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community is represented in that $101 billion. In fact, if we very unscientifically assume that about ten percent of the church and its tithing members are from the LGBT community, more than $10 billion dollars comes from our pockets to the church. Add to that number the giving of allied heterosexual families, and the dollars may be staggering. $15 billion? $20 billion?
In the Christian tradition we give because God calls us to give of ourselves. Whether we take the Biblical mandate of ten percent, or another figure, we do it because we know that giving is a sign of faith. Giving is an acknowledgment of a wider group of believers that is bigger than the simple individualistic relationship of me and God. Traditionally, tithing was intended to support the outcast and the weak, literally the widow and the orphan.
Why is it then that so many LGBT people and our allies are tithing to churches that do no such thing when it comes to our community? We are tithing to churches that seek to "re-program" us, isolate us, condemn us, or give us phony platitudes such as "Love the sinner, hate the sin." Many of us live in the closets of our own churches, supporting the very institution that would prefer we did not even exist, and in some cases actively pursues policies and practices that try to eradicate us.
Unfortunately, every day, I am fighting you. As an out Christian Lutheran and Episcopal clergy person I am abused every day by you. Your tithe to your church that condemns LGBT people is being used against me, and millions of other people, including you. You are, however, my brothers and sisters, so let me make some suggestions.
Like you, I need to give of myself. Tithing is not a habit, but a deep part of our beings, a way of showing gratitude, even on the days when it is hard to find something for which to be grateful. Do not stifle your tithe, but send it somewhere else. Send it to Christian congregations that are working for full inclusion, not only of LGBT people, but of women, and people of all income levels, races, and cultural backgrounds. Many of us exist! Your church might pretend that we are as rare as a snowball in hell, but we are here in a much larger abundance than you may imagine. Open your eyes to the powerful spirit of inclusion that is around you, preaching to you and teaching you love in the strangest of places. If that does not work, google us.
When you need to be in that church, even if it's every week with your mother or your grandmother, we know you need to be there. Coming out is a process only you can know is right for you. (Ten years ago I was closeted and in the pulpit.) Please, however, stop tithing in that place. Take a dollar bill and put it in a bright clean envelope, and place it in the offering place, but send the tithe to one of us.
If for some reason sending that tithe to an inclusive church does not suit you, find a community organization that does good things, that shelters LGBT people who are abused, or that supports youth or elderly members of our community. You can even send it to the campaign office of the president of the United States. After all, in these past months, he has done more to teach God's love for the LGBT community than your church ever will.