MICHEL MARTIN, Host:

Every Friday, we bring you conversations about faith and spirituality.

This week, we want to talk about tithing. The holiday season is upon us, and many are thinking about their yearend gifts but for the religiously committed, the giving is supposed to last all year long.

Tithing, or the giving up of a tenth of one's income, is a tradition for many. But now, some congregants and even clergy, are questioning the practice. They say it's a mystery of the Bible that's a turn off.

So we're going to talk about it with Reverend Marty Baker. He's pastor of Stevens Creek Church in Augusta, Georgia. He joins us from Georgia Public Broadcasting in Augusta. And - I think in Atlanta, actually - and Rev. Bob Barbour of Union Missionary Baptist Church in Chesapeake, Ohio. He joins us by phone from his office.

Reverends, both, thank you so much for speaking with us.

MARTY BAKER: Thank you.

BOB BARBOUR: Michel, it's great to be here.

MARTIN: Reverend Baker, if I would start with you, what's the biblical basis for tithing?

BAKER: We look at the Old Testament as setting a standard of 10 percent of giving to the Lord. And when we consider tithing at Stevens Creek Church, we encourage people to give out of a generous heart, out of the loving heart. We never mandate it. But we do teach that the Bible sets a standard of bringing the first 10 percent of one's income to the Lord's work.

MARTIN: And Reverend Barbour, you no longer - I understand that you encourage giving, of course, but that you no longer preach about tithing, specifically. Why not?

BARBOUR: We do encourage giving, and we believe that it's a command for a New Testament believer. We, however, believe that tithing is an Old Testament principle. We are not under the Old Testament law anymore as believers in Christ. We are under grace, and we teach grace giving.

MARTIN: How did you come to that insight?

BARBOUR: Through the study of the Scriptures.

MARTIN: Did members of the congregation come to you to discuss this or was this something that you developed on your own while you were in your period of study? I guess I'm what I'm wondering was this kind of a grassroots movement that folks in the congregation that you know, I don't, I'm not feeling this? Or was this something that you came to you through your own study?

BARBOUR: (Unintelligible) movement has been something that Bible teachers have taught for years and years and years. And I was just a little slow in my coming to a conviction concerning it, but I certainly have it now.

MARTIN: Reverend Baker, you feel so strongly about giving that you started up a company, Secure Give, that allows people at their places of worship to give via a credit or a debit card. You actually set up a giving kiosk machines in churches.

BAKER: Yes.

MARTIN: What's your reaction to that?

BAKER: Yes, we do. I mean, we are passionate about expanding the greater good in the culture and we are passionate expanded - about expanding the local church ministries. And what we realized a few years ago is that people do not carry cash and they don't carry a checkbook. And what happens when they go to the house of the Lord, they go to the temple, and they're prompted to give. How would they give?

And so, as a result of that, we created Secure Give and we focused on providing the technology that allows church members and non-profits to donate to something they really believe in with a method - a debit card, a credit card - that they are used to carry own business. And it's been very interesting. We have over 60 locations across America using a giving kiosk. And at Steven's Creek Church, we've seen a remarkable result.

In fact, when we first put in the unit, we received about $100,000 that first year. The second year is about $200,000. And this year, we'll be close to $300,000, where people will come and swipe their card and say, I want to donate to the Lord's work with my debit card.

MARTIN: Debits and credit - do I have that right? It's debit cards and credit cards because, I think...

BAKER: You know...

MARTIN: ...some might wonder whether that's really a good practice to encourage people to tithe with a credit card.

BAKER: Exactly. And we understand that - and at Secure Give, we will work with that local congregation. And if they have an issue with credit, we'll set the machine up to be debit only, or if they do not have an issue with credit, we'll do debit and credit. But the heart of Secure Give is to help that local church so we'll never want to go against their core values and helping them raise their stewardship emphasis.

MARTIN: But what would you say to those who argue that the practice dates from a time where there was no social safety net beyond the family, that the church or the temple was - in essence social security - that that was the only way that folks were taken care of? And now that we have social security and Medicare and pay hefty sums for that out of our salaries, that this is an outdated practice?

BAKER: Well, I think that the scriptural heart of it will never be outdated. Even though we do pay taxes and social security, the heart of the local church is still to reach into and help the under-resourced in our community whether it's the food banks or clothing ministries, or just basic help.

And so whatever the government may mandate, the local church still must reach beyond themselves and help the hurting of our culture. And if we do that, we'll expand the greater good and we'll help many people.

MARTIN: Reverend Barbour, I understand that you had a recent experience talking to someone in your congregation who was not giving. Will you tell us about that?

BARBOUR: Yes, a young man came to me after a series I did on giving and said, pastor, I'm not giving because we're in debt and we just feel like we can't give because of our indebtedness. And I encouraged him to give. I said, even if you give a dollar a week, you need to begin giving. And he has begun that and I'm - I haven't checked to see if he's giving more, but I know he did begin to give. And...

MARTIN: Is it part of your view that the emphasis on tithing discourages people if they can't give a tenth, they feel they shouldn't give anything? It makes them feel ashamed. Is that part of it?

BARBOUR: No, I don't think so. In fact, I would say that tithing may be a - or a tenth may be a good place to begin, but it certainly is not the limit.

MARTIN: Mm-hmm. Okay. What would you say to those, Reverend Barbour, who also argued that part of it is that they're worried about mismanagement that there have been scandals and many congregations across religious lines about not just the scandals involving personal behavior of clergy, but misspending of resources? And that people just say, well, I just don't feel that - unless people prove to me that these moneys are being used properly, I don't particularly want to dig that deep into my pocket. Have you heard this, either of you? And how do you respond to that? Reverend Barbour, first?

BARBOUR: Well, certainly I've heard that. And I'm sure in some cases, it's true, and that's tragic. We tried - we don't try, we do - we published a financial statement every month. We have a business meeting every month in the church. We publish a financial statement where we give an account as to where each dollar has gone.

MARTIN: Reverend Baker, what about you?

BAKER: Right. We would agree with Reverend Barbour on this that we feel like a financial accountability is so important. We have a board of elders. We're also going to publish a financial statement at the end of the year.

And so accountability is so important. And I would say this - and I'm not that far away from where Reverend Barbour is coming from.

We really feel like that tithing is a great place to start. Some people have to grow into that discipline. And, you know, some people, giving a tenth does not even affect their income.

BARBOUR: That's true.

BAKER: Hence, I would say that at that point, that individual should consider, and say, God, what do you want me to give? Do I need to be locked into a 10th or could I give even more since you have prospered me? The Bible teaches us to give as the Lord prospers us.

MARTIN: If the tithing does only speak to cash resources or does it also speak to time?

BAKER: I really feel like it speaks to, not only time - and it speaks to your talents. So many people have gifts and talents that they need to use to help their local church or their local congregation. And it speaks of money. It's the whole person. We talk about the stewardship of the whole individual.

BARBOUR: Mm-hmm.

MARTIN: But does that stewardship have to be expressed through the church, is the question that some who asked. Someone asked me, you know, I feel a very strong calling to work with the homeless or a very strong calling to work with children going through the court system, for example, and that isn't necessarily a ministry that my church offers. Do you consider that equally worthy or do you feel strongly that these acts need to be expressed through the church?

BAKER: Well, Michel, you are the church. And that's what you need to understand. We are each - we've been called out of darkness. We're part of God's spiritual family. And so when you go and work with the homeless or you work with the - as a child advocate, you are being the hands of Christ extended to this culture. And so we really encourage people at Steven's Creek Church to reach beyond themselves, to get involved in the culture, to make relationships, to make friendships with people in the culture so that we can influence them in a positive way and we can help them along their way, especially in their spiritual journey.

MARTIN: All right. Reverend, thank you so much. Reverend Marty Baker, pastor of Steven's Creek Church. He joined us from Georgia Public Broadcasting. It is indeed in Augusta, Georgia. We're also joined by Reverend Bob Barbour of Union Missionary Baptist Church in Chesapeake, Ohio. He joined us by phone from his home.

Thank you both so much for speaking with us. And Happy Holidays to you.

BARBOUR: Thank you.

BAKER: Well, thank you very much.

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