Discussion: Whose money is it anyway?

During the course of the financial crisis in the west, the Church has been slow, awkward, and halting in its response. Through the politicking (and there’s been plenty of that), a lot of crazy things have been said. I’ve been on the receiving end of some very colourful, but not very creative profanity (if you’re going to get ugly, then do it beautifully, y’know?). We’ve heard a lot of “interesting” statements, attacks, and defenses.

At the root of the most “interesting” statement I’ve heard – from more than one pastor – is a serious theological question which we should probably answer before walking another step together. The statement is brief. I want to know, “what do we think about this?”  I only ask because I think it’s an important question to hash out, if only because I’ve heard it enough times by a number of prominent leaders in our church. By “a number” I mean more than four but less than six. Which is to say 5 (“The Great Figure” if you ask William Carlos Williams).  In my experience when you hear several people say the same thing, the idea isn’t isolated. It could be isolated, I suppose. It just seems to me the odds are low that I’ve spoken with or heard the only five people who share this idea.

The follow statement has been said in private, but publicly enough that I’ve overheard it (at convention in May). I’m not easily shocked, but every time I think recall this phrase, my brain kind of seizes up and does that thing where, just as you’ve accidentally dropped your mobile phone into a public toilet you do that crazy grabbing dance to save the phone before it…>ploop<  awwwwwww… That’s what my brain does when I hear this phrase.

“The depositors shouldn’t complain because it’s not really their money; all things belong to God.” (versions varied, but this is a fair representation of the intent).

Aaaaand…discuss.

ps: I’m curious to hear if anyone else has heard this said in conversation, and if this is an actual defensible position in the church, or if its as lacking as it seems on the surface.

Andreas Schwabe is editor and publisher of SolaGratia.ca, and an Edmonton-based multimedia & communication strategist and producer. His focus for SolaGratia is on administration, governance, and issues of faith. For clients, he writes or produces just about anything.

32 thoughts on “Discussion: Whose money is it anyway?

  1. Tim Schneider

    I would argue that the comment in the OP is inherently wrong, arrogant, and any pastor saying it has a wrong headed idea of stewardship.

    Yes, all the money belongs to God anyway, but God has blessed these investors with the money that they deposited into CEF. God, in His wisdom, gave this money to the depositor for their own well-being. It came from God, but He gave it to that one person here in this life, for the support of their body and life. God gave it to them, and from below we must say that it is their money and the BOD are the ones who were the horrendous, sinful, and wasteful stewards who used it poorly and squandered it. I pray that should I hear such a comment, though that is less likely since I’ve moved to the East District this year, I would have the courage and righteous anger to counter such an evil, sinful comment.

  2. Janice

    I am assuming this comment, and the people saying it, links with another tactic to use ‘guilt’ to silence the investors. As a daughter and sister of two people whose lives have been devastated by this situation, I am as sickened by this statement as I am by the ‘leadership’ of each of the many scoundrals who have looked after themselves by STEALING the investors’ money and if this wasn’t enough, they now hide behind the bible to justify their actions. Who are these people and why are they so LACKING IN COURAGE AND CONCERN FOR JUSTICE AND EQUITY? I, and my entire family, will celebrate widely on every day that another of the people involved in this devastating fiasco are sent to prison.

    • Reepicheep

      Janice, if you have evidence of criminal wrongdoing by any people involved with the CEF/DIL loss, then I strongly recommend you take your evidence to the police.

      • Darlene

        While it may not have been the “intent” of the “leadership” to STEAL depositors’ money they are guilty of investing their deposits in a high risk venture without their approval. Even when it was evident that there were serious problems with the investments they did not put the brakes on lending and continued to lend “good” money after “bad” so did not practice due diligence. What would be the legal term for using anothers’ money in such fashion, Reepicheep?

        • Reepicheep

          Not “stealing”.

          • ANO

            I think “fraud” is the term you’re looking for.

        • Larry

          The violation of the seventh commandment is clear, whatever you decide to name it.

      • Rev. robert clifford

        Who has authority to investigate the deposit & withdrawal activity over the last 10 years of everyone with inside, non-public information. The withdrawal activity of every District Officer, District Staff, Board of Directors of each of the various entities (District, EnCharis – the District Presidents, Business Managers, secretaries, etc.) & the family members of each should be investigated. And it would also be very telling if they had no personal deposits when the rest of us were all exhorted to invest.
        Who has authority to investigate this & report to the court? – the Monitor, the CRO, the Committees?
        I recall in the mid-2000s, there were ABC District-sponsored presentations in every Circuit warning against “Affinity Fraud”.
        In-as-much as I promoted CEF as a Pastor with the regular series of District-supplied bulletin announcements & CEF posters, I feel like an unwilling accomplice in an affinity fraud perpetrated not by some stranger in the congregation but by the church itself.
        I have written a letter to the congregations I served apologizing for same (copied to ABC District Office & LCC Synod Office).
        I am a CEF depositor: high 5 figures – no withdrawals.

  3. Darlene

    I’m not sure how any Godly, ethical person can make the statement “the depositors shouldn’t complain because … all things belong to God”. Oh wait, lack of ethical behavior is what got the church into this situation. If those making the decisions on spending investor’s money run their households with such careless abandon their families must be going around in rags and living on the street. Once again the victims are blamed for the abuse they sustained.

  4. Walter

    This doesn’t surprise me. I witnessed almost all of the people at convention stand up and give a standing ovation. I was truly disappointed by that. To me it seems that the ABC district became a cult as some people have said. “Just do as I say and keep your mouth shut” why else did no one come forth years ago?

    • Larry

      People did come forward Walter, but their reputations were trashed. Our church body (and by that I mean only the administrative wing and the current leadership) is a cruel joke. The fact that “the herd” stood up and gave the former dp a standing ovation at the district convention is evidence of just how sick it is. In the words of the sainted Kurt Marquart, “it’s vomitous!”

  5. Rudy

    It seems that there has been no formal response to this “attitude”, and certainly no clarification of where the church stands. Surely this is a prerequisite to any spiritual reconciliation. Unfortunately, this attitude is the root of the problem in our church. Has anyone else been subjected to the heavy handed “free and joyous response”? Interesting name for something which is neither free nor joyous. I have never seen such high pressure being placed on the members at any other churches I’ve attended. But I guess it’s because we’ve all absconded with God’s money, and really need to return it to the true stewards at the LCC as soon as possible!

    • ANO

      It seems that there has been no formal response to this “attitude”, and certainly no clarification of where the church stands. Surely this is a prerequisite to any spiritual reconciliation.

      That’s the biggest problem with the LCC – nobody’s “in charge.” The SP claims to supervise the pastorate – so why is he allowing this kind of blatant abuse to happen from church pulpits with no response? Where is the IES in all this and why hasn’t he put a stop to it?

      People in positions of authority aren’t being held to account, and the church as a whole is paying the price.

    • Larry

      There has been no formal response or clarification because people in key positions of authority in the church still uphold this kind of thinking! If we are even beginning to think that this crisis has changed anything, we need to think again.

      • pd

        Perhaps it’s time to ask the Commission on Theology and Church Relation (CTCR) for an official ruling on this issue! Let’s see where they stand on this issue. Should we do this as individuals or as a group?

        • Larry

          Yes pd we should!

        • ANO

          Perhaps it’s time to ask the Commission on Theology and Church Relation (CTCR) for an official ruling on this issue

          The appropriate first step is to talk to the IES and get his response, mostly because the CTCR will take forever to make a determination, if it ever does.

          If talking to the IES doesn’t gain satisfaction, then ping the CTCR about it.

          • pd

            I think you should talk to the IES and see what he has to say. I know what he said years ago.

          • ANO

            I didn’t say you’d get the response you’re looking for, I’m saying to follow the chain of authority / responsibility. That you got a different response years ago doesn’t relieve you from the responsibility to do it in this case.

            If he doesn’t step up then go to the next person in line of authority / responsibility until you get to the CTCR.

          • pd

            I guess that means that no one will do any thing.

          • ANO

            No, it means you go about this in good and proper order in working to get this resolved.

            I share your doubt that this’ll be fixed by the administration – like any other person they still need to be given the chance to do the right thing before climbing the chain of authority / responsibility.

          • pd

            ANO I did my part and I stood alone for many years. I’ve learned that for the vast majority it’s just empty words and no action. I will encourage and assist. It’s time for others to do something.

          • ANO

            pd – I hear you. If you can’t get support to do the right thing, then you need to take care of yourself.

            Hopefully this time around things’ll be different.

  6. Greg Kjos

    The money is the Lord’s but the stewardship of this money and the care and well being of those who provided the belon fully on the shoulders and heart of the Board of Directors.

    They sinned against those who trusted Jesus to use His money for His woo

    Therefore leadership be warned – your concern masks a far greater concern: why did you sin against your brothers and sisters and the Lord with His money!!!!

  7. Shannon

    Maybe it’s time to get back to the basics. Love the Lord your God …. Love your neighbor…… Where is the love for either in a statement or attitude like you have heard and shared?

    It’s quite a terrible thing to donate money to a charity or church and have it misused or lost through inappropriate or foolish actions. There would be a public outcry and the guilty parties would be found out and publicly shamed and punished.

    In this case the money was NOT a donation, it was a loan… given in good faith…. to be used to carry out God’s work and ministry…… Was God’s work done? How? Who benefitted?

    The only ones benefitting now are the lawyers, at the expense of the depositors a second time as they watch what little is left spent to fix the mess. This is shameful for sure, however, it is not the depositors who should be made to feel ashamed for trusting and for expecting what was promised to them.

  8. Phil Lemke

    Yes, I’ve heard that comment a few times too…and it’s not defensible.

    The inference is that the CEF and DIL depositors savings, before having been handed over to District for stewardship, were God’s…so the former should forgive and forget. Nonsense. Those same funds were God’s when squandered by all those persons in the District office when, through the years, each and every decision was made to loan or otherwise invest such funds…collectively leading to the current financial crisis. All those persons having so been involved in such decisions now need to be held accountable.

    I’ve asked myself many times…what does the Bible say about this? I have to look no further than the Garden of Eden. There were CONSEQUENCES to Adam and Eve’s sin…and the same is warranted in today’s crisis within the District.

  9. S

    It’s being used in a way it was never intended to be used, to justify a lack of responsibility on the manager’s part when things go wrong because of their bad stewardship and flawed thinking (same as the words “we erred on the side of ministry” had become dirty words) Further, it’s an attempt at silencing complaining depositors which fits well with the psychological and sociological aspects at work, as explained in the Task Force review. It’s dangerous thinking when you equate District actions as God’s and this minimizing of depositors pain for the benefit of “the Church” needs to be recognized and stopped when it happens.

  10. Sinner saved by grace

    Well, in the macro sense everything belongs to God. When we sing the offertory, “We give Thee but Thine own” that is what we are saying. That said, we are also called to be good stewards of what God has given us. The people who invested in CEF thought that is what they were doing, unfortunately those in charge weren’t operating with the same principle and thus we find ourselves in the mess we are in. And I agree with you Andreas, we cannot move forward until arrogance, bullying and blind cheerleading for the District is eliminated from the ranks of the clergy and replaced by humble men willing to take the counsel of laity more experienced than they are in matters of the Kingdom of the left hand.

  11. pd

    It is true that everything belongs to God and we need to treat what God entrusts to us as good stewards. We are not the owners we are stewards and God can take back what belongs to Him anytime He wants.

    At the same time when we take what God entrusts to others we violate the Seventh Commandment. You shall not steal.
    What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not take our neighbor’s money or possessions, or get them in any dishonest way, but help him to improve and protect his possessions and income.

    It is sinful for the thief to say “God made me do it.”

  12. Investor Amy

    By that reasoning, The scoundrels shouldn’t object to being sent to prison because it’s God’s will.

  13. ANO

    ps: I’m curious … if this is an actual defensible position in the church

    Quick & easy answer: NO.

    Look at the parable of the ten talents and how when the master returned, he excoriated the servant for giving the master what was his instead of leaving it with the bankers and returning it with interest. Imagine the master’s response if the servant had told him “It’s all God’s so I gave it away and you can’t complain about it.”

    Have we strayed so far off the straight and narrow that pastors are saying such things in all seriousness? The mind boggles….

  14. ANO

    I’d love to find someone that actually believes that because that means I can drain their bank accounts, max out their credit cards, sell all their assets, take the proceeds for my own use – and they’d have no cause for complaint because “it all belongs to God anyway.”

    Right?

    Right??

    I thought not.

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