When in the midst of a conversation among friends, one says, “…and you’re not allowed to blog this!” I think that’s pretty much an invitation. Or it’s all the invitation I need, anyway.

The conversation was about a letter sent by a certain church to individual members of the congregation, simply some bits of housekeeping items. The church now accepts tithes via Interac debit card (like an ATM banking card or check card) or by Visa or MasterCard. Simple, good thinking, much more convenient. But wait.

Contributors using debit cards for their giving will be charged an extra $0.15 per transaction in addition to the amount they wish to give. Credit card users must pay the additional fees based on a percentage, as is the fashion for banks to charge credit card transaction fees…. 2% for Visa and 3% for MasterCard. An example is given, where someone wants to give a tithe of $150 to the church by MasterCard, they should add 3% and contribute $154.50 to cover the transaction costs. It is pointed out that the additional contributions are not receiptable donations (I can’t explain that one).

I want to offer to sponsor debit card givers, paying the 15 cents for them to enable them to give, poor souls. Someone else commented that this was nickel-and-diming, literally. Seems maybe they are afraid that if too many people give this way, it will cost too much and the net offering will be down.

They call it a new convenience, for which they’re passing along the cost. I just call it legalism.

Update: Sorry, I just have to rant further. Fear. I also call it fear. Do they think that God can look after their monthly budget except for banking charges? I’m a small business owner, and in our business we accept Visa, MasterCard, American Express, and pre-authorized chequing arrangements. All of these have transaction fees, and I’ve never considered charging the customer extra. A lot of billings we do are recurring amounts, and I wish more people would use these payment methods. I’d rather give people a discount or incentive if they’d start using these methods. This idea is all half-baked. Did they not notice how much people gave to places like the Red Cross in the wake of the tsunami disaster some months ago, with much of it done online using credit cards? I think giving would go up — unless like me, people would be cynical enough to stop giving. Besides, the transaction fees are charged to the merchant (the church), not the customer, so because the cost is an expense to the church, the funds given to pay it are receiptable donations. As they’ve written it up in their letter, the church is actually charging transaction fees, which means that if they don’t intend to receipt that income, they will have income from banking charges — and who knows, it’s probably taxable income. That’s what fear and greed will get you, the object of your desire is clawed back elsewhere.

Why is it legalism? Because as someone in the group illustrated, will we one day stand before Almighty God sitting on his throne, and have him look at us and declare in a booming voice, “Where’s my fifty cents?” This of course in response to the person who needed to bump his tithe by 3%. The letter does point out that this is 3% of the tithe, not 3% of their income… and that the total “gift” would be 10.3% of their income. AAauuugghhhhh! Am I the only person who never tithed to the penny? I mean, I always just rounded off the amount, usually up by between $5 and $25 to a round number. Are they so afraid that because people will tithe to the penny, the service charge will come off the top and leave the tithe short…. do they expect that if this happens that people will come under judgement because God once told them to bring the whole tithe into the storehouse? (They love that phrase in this church). Or do they think that they will have to reduce their budget by 3%?

I can’t believe that the elders of this church would review, come up with a policy, and one of them would sign a letter to the congregants to announce this madness. And yet, there it is. I’m glad I don’t go there… probably in the next week or two they will be installing meters in the parking lots, so you’ll have to come to church prepared with a pocketfull of change — and be prepared to run out and plug the meter if the service runs long (not an altogether infrequent occurrence there).

I wonder if the widow’s mite was subject to a transaction fee? As I mentioned, I suppose it would be quite wonderful to have “transaction sponsors,” people who are willing to pay the transaction fees of others in order to enable them to give (but note your generousity will not be receiptable). This way, the widow could be assured her mite would actually get to the coffers of the church. In the context that Jesus and his disciples were in, the institution was corrupt, but God considered the gift of the widow honorable and highly prized. This should be some consolation to those paying transaction fees in order to give…. God considers it honorable no mater how inane the practice of collecting an extra 3% may be.

Okay, that’s it for now. Rant over… but I can’t guarantee it won’t flare up again.

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