The first time I saw this headline (that hackers used email phishing to steal $680,000 from a church in Des Moines, Iowa) I chuckled. I didn’t know at the time that it was a fund for homeless and widowed women – but in principle the idea of stealing from a church isn’t upsetting to me. Many churches operate like business; raising money, expanding, raising more money – and collect millions in donations for often little more than showmanship (Harold Camping’s family radio raised millions of dollars based on his Armageddon claims that never came true).
People who give money to support the church they go to are pretty much paying dues to a membership club – which isn’t really like tithing or philanthropy because they’re buying a service that they enjoy participating in. So stealing from a church seems a lot like stealing from a big corporation… except that they are often small business built by entrepreneurs.
Was God asleep at the wheel?
The interesting thing about theft from a church, however, is that a church’s entire modus operandi is that it offers the love and protection of an omniscient, omnipresent deity (G-O-D). Churches teach that God is always watching you; anything bad that happens is a blessing in disguise, for God never does anything to harm you. So when a church gets robbed, there is no way to excuse God’s responsibility: There’s a no way that God failed or wasn’t paying attention or doesn’t care – because he’s God and this is HIS church. So when $680,000 goes missing (or when there is any other big problem) God must have allowed it to happen on purpose.
“You kind of have to take a deep breath and you have to trust in the Lord,” Richard Pates, the bishop of St. Ambrose Cathedral in Des Moines, Iowa told CBS News, after losing $680,000 in the heist.
This is a huge challenge of faith, but not overcomeable. It is possible to think “God is testing this community/God wants me to learn humility/God is mysterious but this is somehow God for me in a way I can’t fathom”.
For me it points out something more obvious; churches have no more divine protection than any other organization. Bad things happen to everybody, so if there is a God – he doesn’t interfere, ever. (God helps those that help themselves). Consequently – the benefits of Church attendance are purely personal: people go because it makes THEM feel good, but God doesn’t give a damn either way. (This is not a strong logical argument however – Christians will counter that life is a test etc. etc. and God does care, but gives no indication of his preferences because he wants it to be a free choice.)
The church was fully reimbursed by insurance and their bank, so actually they didn’t lose any money – the orphans and widows can survive. (Is that God’s hand at work? No – it’s a smart financial system, which God probably wouldn’t approve of at all.)