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Austin Cline

How Much do Churches Really Spend on Charity?

By March 13, 2007

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In an effort to try to claim that they are more moral than atheists, religious believers sometimes argue that they give more to charity than atheists do. Their primary charity is their church, however, and just how "charitable" are such donations? How much of that money really goes to helping others who need help? That answer will vary from church to church, of course, but it's clear that with some churches hardly anything goes to the needy.
The hairdresser scrapes together $600 of her own money each month to keep up the program because the Prayer Palace one of Canada's largest evangelical churches stopped running it five years ago. Other charitable works, like a promised orphanage in Brazil, either dried up or never materialized.

Meanwhile, the three white pastors Paul Melnichuk and his 40-year-old twin sons, Tim and Tom lead lavish lives in contrast to the mainly working-class black families that make up the bulk of the church.

Between them, the pastors have amassed a real estate fortune worth about $12 million. Each owns a multi-million-dollar country estate north of Toronto (Tim's is worth as much as $5.5 million), they share a Florida vacation villa, and the pastors and their wives drive luxurious cars among them a Porsche Cayenne SUV, a Lexus RX 330 SUV and a Mercedes-Benz CLK 320 convertible.

Congregants are largely unaware of the pastors' extravagant lifestyles.

Source: Toronto Star

This is just the tip of the iceberg the full article details just how extensive the pastors' wealth is in comparison to the poverty of the congregation. I'm not suggesting that this is typical of all churches, but I do think that the elements which helped foster this situation are present in most or all churches. The biggest problem is simply the "faith" of the adherents that their money will be used for good; instead of exercising control over what happens, they surrender their money and faith to religious leaders who may or may not deserve such trust.

You don't normally find such "faith" in secular or public charities because they recognize the importance of careful oversight. This is rather ironic because Christian groups like to proclaim the fact that they know people are sinners whereas others pretend that humans are perfectible; in reality, many Christian groups act as though sin and temptation won't happen to them, their leaders, and their organizations. Secular groups that don't incorporate the notion of "sin" into their ideology or mission do make allowances for problems and make provisions to prevent them from happening.

March 16, 2007 at 1:32 pm
(1) John Hanks says:

I go to a soup kitchen a few times a week.
The food is basically wild game and stuff from cans. I like the company more.

Charity should never be an excuse for not dealing with basic needs for food, shelter, medical care, education, jobs, etc. IT JUST DOESN’T WORK EXCEPT ON AN OCCAISIONAL BASIS. (Military benefits for all.)

March 16, 2007 at 4:28 pm
(2) Sheldon says:

I have long been suspicious of the statistics saying that religious folk give more charitable contributions.

March 16, 2007 at 11:20 pm
(3) Adrift in Paradise says:

Hmmm… how well do the rich Christians compare with Gates and Buffet?

December 31, 2008 at 11:20 pm
(4) Max says:

Why do athiests always quote the pharisees and the false prophets that make a bad name for Christianity. Those that you mentioned do not walk the walk.

September 22, 2011 at 8:32 am
(5) EveryoneIsAnAtheist says:

Oh, whatever, face it, you got called out and the only thing you can respond with is to try and demonize those who don;t believe in your brand of bullshit.

January 2, 2009 at 2:43 pm
(6) Robert says:

It is sad to see people proudly claiming to be Christian who attend church.
If you read the Bible you can see that there are no churches that follow or understand the teachings of Jesus Christ

January 2, 2009 at 2:56 pm
(7) DamnRight says:

Ah yes… the old “they’re not true Christians” argument…

… what portion of the “Christians” falls into this category?…

… on one hand you claim “Christian nation” while on the other hand, dismissing the majority as “fake” Christians because they’ve been exposed for who they really are…

… so, if the majority of Christians don’t represent Christianity, stop claiming your superior numbers…

January 2, 2009 at 10:39 pm
(8) Tom Edgar says:

Correction please.. America is NOT a Christian nation… Never has been.. Religious Nation well maybe. And all the other sects are wrong except mine. God told me.

January 2, 2009 at 10:48 pm
(9) Tom Edgar says:

Cut myself off again.

Those Pastors haven’t an exclusive in the area.
The Pope isn’t exactly housed in a hovel nor drives a donkey cart. Reverend Moon isn’t destitute. The English Lambeth Palace for the Arch Bishop is no slum. New York’s chief Rabbi? Bet he isn’t down on the Bowery.

Heck we atheists must be dumb.. Have to supply all our riches to us, ourselves. But then. Atheism isn’t a business, just an idea.

January 3, 2009 at 1:39 am
(10) Drew says:

Why do atheists always ridicule religious leaders, who live in hypocricy and opulence?

Gee, I don’t know, maybe because they are the loudest voice of Christianity, and the people who the largest numbers of Christians look to for leadership, and the people that the largest number of Christians support financially, and the people who write the books and produce the telecasts that millions of Christians read and watch.

It takes a stupid person to ask such a stupid question.

January 3, 2009 at 12:23 pm
(11) George says:

Remember they’re not perfect just forgiven. No matter how many times they’re caught “speeding” they get a “Get out of jail free” card. What more could you ask for in a religion?

I guess that could be a distinguishing characteristic between nonbelievers and religionists. No free lunch, ever. But then isn’t life a little more precious that way? And understandable?

January 4, 2009 at 9:30 am
(12) God Isn't says:

Christians often think that the best use for money is evangelizing, not fulfilling the real life needs of people. “Mother” Teresa was a prime example of this kind of thinking:


“What about her celebrated concern for the poor and the weak? Here the record is much murkier than her saintly image would suggest. I have been shown testimony from leading American and British physicians, expressing their concern at the extremely low standard of medicine practiced in her small Calcutta clinics. No pain killers, syringes washed in cold water, a fatalistic attitude toward death and a strict regimen for the patients. No public accounts were made available by her ‘missionaries of Charity’ but enormous sums are known to have been raised. The income from such awards as the Nobel Prize is alone enough to maintain a sizable operation. In one on-the-record interview, Mother Teresa spoke with pride of having opened more than 500 convents in 125 countries, ‘not counting India.’ It seemed more than probable that money donated by well-wishers for the relief of suffering was being employed for the purpose of religious proselytizing by the ‘missionary multinational.’ “

January 4, 2009 at 4:48 pm
(13) Zack says:

Why do athiests always quote the pharisees and the false prophets that make a bad name for Christianity. Those that you mentioned do not walk the walk. — Max on December 31, 2008 at 11:20 pm

Surely you are glad to see “pharisees and false prophets” exposed as the pocket-picking mountebanks that they are?

Feel free to cite come examples of Christians who do “walk the walk.” Even one such example would be illuminating and edifying. How odd that you didn’t provide this important information in your post.

May 1, 2011 at 2:05 pm
(14) Bear says:

Not a christian, but: the society of friends (Quakers), and the Amish would probably be two groups that you could classify in this category. Interestingly though, neither group has traditional leadership positions. The Quakers don’t have pastors or preachers: at their services, individuals get up to talk as “the spirit moves them”. The Amish see leadership as a burden, and select their leaders randomly from the eligible men. When one of them is selected, they are offered condolences by the community.

January 5, 2009 at 2:20 am
(15) Tom Edgar says:

Zack… The late Pastor John White of the “Church of the Nazarene.” Would qualify.

He had me as a lifelong devoted friend, along with, I would add,most of his parishioners, I a militant atheist, vouch for the sincerity and real “Saintliness” of this man who would, if alive, deny the accolade. I am still friends of his family. They and I think each other, religiously speaking, mistaken. Doesn’t mean we don’t recognise the honesty, integrity and genuineness of our positions. I daresay there are many “Johns” around. In my previous profession I met many of them
and they were from all disciplines. from Anglican and Catholic to even one man a senior member of the “Exclusive Brethren.”
An honest business man who lent a helping hand when my own business was faltering.
He never questioned my atheism and I never denigrated his beliefs. The world is full of such people. Some are even atheists.

November 7, 2009 at 7:26 am
(16) Vincent Maina says:

I know you are an Atheist but we can be friend may be you can help me understand why North American pastors/preachers are so mean yet they collect a lot of money claiming to send to us Africans as charity yet when we beg them for help they put us off so cruel through their mean secretaries. PAUL MELNICHUK, THE CANADIAN PASTOR HAS BEEN SENDING ME ONLY A PREACHING VIDEO OR A PLAIN LETTER WITH EXCUSES SINCE 1999 ON REQUEST. I WAS SHOCKED TO READ HOW HE SQUANDERED MILLIONS OF DOLLARS AND YET HE CLAIMS TO HELP PEOPLE IN KENYA AND AFRICA. HE WILL BE ROTTING IN HELL I THINK IF HE DOES NOT CHANGE. contact me maina1041@hotmail.com

February 19, 2011 at 7:34 pm
(17) Chip says:

“Their primary charity is their church…”

You really should check your facts, as these people here seem to accept your statements as such.


February 20, 2011 at 8:53 am
(18) Austin Cline says:

You really should check your facts, as these people here seem to accept your statements as such.

OK, what in the cited article says that religious believers’ primary charity is not their church or church-based organizations? I only see amounts donated to charity mentioned once, and those numbers say exactly what you claim is wrong.

January 28, 2013 at 2:44 am
(19) booboo says:

Well, gee, Austin, I thought you were actually going to answer the question you posed, but I guess that would be asking too much, huh? How much money do the churches give to charity, to the poor? Any idea whatsoever?

January 30, 2013 at 5:31 am
(20) Austin Cline says:

Well, gee, Austin, I thought you were actually going to answer the question you posed, but I guess that would be asking too much, huh?

Yes, it would. To answer the question, it would be necessary for churches to release their financial records.

The laws don’t require them to do so and they don’t.

February 28, 2014 at 1:13 pm
(21) Empty Barrel says:

The empty barrel makes the most noise. The empty barrel in this case being the mega churches that exploit the generosity of Christians as well as the ignorant people to judge all churches based on the wealthy mega churches. That’s like churching all of America based on the wealthy 1%.

This goes for any religious facility not only christianity. It is easy to exploit people based on their moral stances. Even Atheists can be exploited. If they feel passionate about some human rights area you better believe there are non profits as well as businesses that will exploit their passion, making a huge profit.

That being said. I have moved around a lot and have had the privilege of being a part of some amazing small churches whose pastors DO NOT take a salary from the church. With out tax breaks these small churches would not be there. Do larger churches with lots of money exploit people and their beliefs and make a profit? Yes. But I dont think we should change laws that would destroy the smaller churches that are doing a lot of good because we think it’s unfair larger churches are making too much money.

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