During college I took a trip to Europe. It wasn't my first my first trip to that continent although it was the first time I traveled with someone of the Jehovah Witness Faith. To be fair, this young woman wasn't participating in the religion any more. The elders had suggested she leave after she asked too many questions. They intimated that if her faith were greater than she would not have to question everything. The tough thing about being shunned, is none of the other members ever get to hear your side of the story. Since they have to avoid you to stay in the fold they may wonder themselves what you did to get booted out. Lurid stories are more exciting than mundane ones. I'm sure, because her young friend who proceeded her in getting the boot, had been pregnant, that many members believed MY friend had been sexually active. She wasn't. She wasn't even that far from the faith in her belief system.

That summer I got an education on what Jehovah Witnesses belief. Some of the things I admired was their habit of reading the bible. I have not met a Fundamentalist Christian, or Evangelical Christian, personally who read the bible. I'm sure some do. The ones I have met though, more often read books about the bible by popular Christian writers. They are familiar with some popular quotes from the bible, although few know the context. For example, "I have called my son out of Egypt," many believe as a prophecy in the Old Testament regarding Joseph taking his family from Egypt to Nazareth. Maybe it is, but if you go to where it is lodged in the Old Testament it sure looks like the author is referring to Moses.

That summer, my friend, the pseudo Jehovah Witness told me she would just as soon pass on visiting Rome. I was quite surprised. She explained that given her upbringing, she felt the amount of money the Catholic Church spent on ornate buildings, art collections and the like, was "obscene." I found that to be an interesting use of the word. Prophets or profits? What's it all about? There is no doubt that it costs money to run a church. Frankly, as a religion, Catholics don't donate as much as some of the later created Christian religions. Mormons, for example, are pretty clear about explaining that a tithe means a "tenth" not whatever you feel like tossing in the plate.

Mormons have used the funds they collected to build new temples and meeting halls all over the world. The religion expands in all directions by an active ministry, missionary work, and encouraging large families. Thus people are brought into the religion both by birth and by choosing to convert. Are they wrong to collect that money? It does seem to be going back into the system. Mormons like to take care of their own, through a series of relationships they provide charity and support to each other.

Every now and then, too often for most people's taste, a preacher on TV, is exposed for misusing funds. I guess if they can make millions via book and tape sales people aren't too inquisitive, but start spending the money on a mistress and your flock can get sort of steamed. People don't like to see their money funding something that is explicitly forbidden in their religious belief. Unfortunately, for people outside the religion, these tawdry take downs cast a blight on the whole belief system.

When I lived in Hawai'i for a very short period I attended on of the oldest congregations on Oahu, I had believed at the time, because the church was old, and solid financially, and large that I would meet lots of nice people. There were so many people I joined a small study group for more personal interaction. I came to attention of an unmarried pastor who offered to set me up in an apartment at his expense. I was disturbed. I didn't tell anyone though, because the negative attention it would have drawn to the church would have affected the many good and wonderful programs that the church run. Things like a hospice program for young mothers, and a Meals on Wheels program for the elderly. Donations for all of that stuff would have lessened if a story hit the papers of their pastors keeping mistresses. So I dropped quietly out of the congregation.

Profit or Prophet? Sometimes a church provides both. It is very tempting to do wrong when week after week people give you money and stuff and look up to you as God's liaison. Doe eyed sinners, look up to young handsome pastors, married or not, with girlish crushes. And for a person of evil persuasion, for heaven's sake, that's where the kids are, and no one would suspect. Even a person with the best of intentions could be lured to the dark side if the pressure was constant and the money flowed. In a small church with few funds there's no temptation.

Some people have a knee jerk reaction to giving any money to churches. They feel spiritual advice should be free. Which it is, anyone can read the bible. It's even on dvd now, you can listen to it while you do the dishes or watch it on your laptop. Bottom line, if you are attending a church, you ought to support it. Most churches even if they own their building outright have electric bills to pay. The pastor ought to have a salary so he can quit his day job. Otherwise it's hard to give the congregation all it needs. Plus it's nice to have flowers as decorations, and there are office expenses of pens paper and postage. If your church can't give an accounting of where the money goes, find another church, but please don't be knee jerk about not contributing.

There's nothing inherent about being poor that makes a person or a pastor closer to God. Some poor people may be close to God. But some are just angry and disenfranchised. Who wants a pastor who is envying your clothes?