The reason it is tough is because those who control the purse-strings are personally invested in maintaining the status quo. Put another way, why would those in power want to kill the golden goose?
Welcome to Babylon.
The Goose Lays an Egg
President Harry S. Truman said,
An honest public servant can't become rich in politics.
(Off the Record: The Private Papers of Harry S. Truman, p. 306, from an April 1954 diary entry)
If that quote is true of politicians, should it also be true of priests?
We would expect "business as usual" from political systems and corporate interests, but what is surprising is that churches create systems for accumulating wealth, too.
I say "surprising" because we would assume Christian churches would be following the Sermon on the Mount. (Or did I skip Sunday School the week they taught "Mammon Gets Baptized: The True Hollywood Story of How the Rich and Fabulous Whore of Babylon Found Religion!")
Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal:
But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:
For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other.
Ye cannot serve God and mammon.
(Matthew 6:19-21, 24)
Million Dollar Question
For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.
Question: What does it tell us, and what lessons should we learn, from the fact that popes, prophets and ministers become millionaires?
KFC Original Recipe
Colonel Sanders made a fortune with eleven secret ingredients that made his fried chicken famous. What were the 11 herbs and spices that made us all crave his delicious chicken?
Well, for over 60 years no one knew because it was a closely guarded trade secret. Then in 2016 it was reported that a handwritten piece of paper found in an old scrapbook contained the Original Recipe:
Salt, thyme, basil, oregano, celery salt, pepper, dry mustard, paprika, garlic salt, ground ginger, and white pepper.
Who's hungry? Because the way religions cook up riches is no secret. At the end of the day, they all follow the same recipe:
Pay x (Price) = Salvation
In other words, we pay the cost of salvation and our religion assures us a ticket to heaven. What is the difference between religion and debt collectors when churches restrict access to the Cross? When they create status in their ranks, offering the prized ordinances of salvation only to those who give them money?
This is the goose that lays golden eggs day after day.
The Golden Ticket to Heaven
In Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the whole world became obsessed with finding the golden ticket. And wow, Willy Wonka's plan sure drove up business! On the ticket it read:
Greetings to you, the lucky finder of this Golden Ticket, from Mr. Willy Wonka! I shake you warmly by the hand! Tremendous things are in store for you! Many wonderful surprises await you! For now, I do invite you to come to my factory . . . My beloved Golden Ticket Holders: mystic and marvelous surprises that will entice, delight, intrigue, astonish and perplex you beyond measure [await]!
(Roald Dahl, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory)
Well, that about sums up religion, doesn't it?
If we buy enough chocolate candy bars we may just find a golden ticket.
The Golden Ticket of Religion takes many shapes. Let's look at "indulgences."
When I lived in France as a missionary I visited dozens of cathedrals and my jaw dropped hearing that some of them took 400 years to build. That required a lot of dedication and sacrifice from the people. The cathedrals have a spirit and a beauty that I cherish. The cathedral in Chartres was truly spectacular. Once when I went to Midnight Mass the stones cried out as the organ thundered. I love Catholicism.
One of the big debates of the Reformation was over the selling of indulgences, which was the Middle-Age version of tithing and work for the dead rolled into one.
It was a way for the church to generate income while allowing members, through the purchase of indulgences, to free their deceased loved ones from purgatory.
Then Martin Luther showed up and all hell broke loose.
Why? Because he was targeting the economic foundation of his church.
Three Theses On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses on the door of the Wittenberg church.
Here are three of my favorites that are still relevant:
No. 27. They preach only human doctrines who say that as soon as the money clinks into the money chest, the soul flies out of purgatory.
No. 32. Those who believe that they can be certain of their salvation because they have indulgence letters will be eternally damned, together with their teachers.
No. 43. Christians are to be taught that he who gives to the poor or lends to the needy does a better deed than he who buys indulgences.
Re-read that last one, No. 43.
Question: Why would this threaten the most powerful kingdom on earth, the Holy Roman Empire?
Answer: Because if people started donating their money directly to the poor and needy instead of to the church, then how would the church pay its bills, afford its armies, pay its staff, and buy more real estate?
For behold, ye do love money, and your substance, and your fine apparel, and the adorning of your churches, more than ye love the poor and the needy, the sick and the afflicted.
O ye pollutions, ye hypocrites, ye teachers, who sell yourselves for that which will canker, why have ye polluted the holy church of God?
I have charity towards all faiths, religions and people. We're all in this boat together.
Moroni, in the quote above, is pointing to a weakness that is universal - one we all struggle with - the "love of money" in comparison to our "love of the poor."
What I am trying to figure out is why Christian churches turn religion into big business when we all know:
Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this,
To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.
Is it just me, or does it seem like the gospel of Jesus Christ gets smothered and buried underneath a thousand mattresses - all the paperwork and duties and obligations and meetings and politics and marketing of religion - where the "pure" gospel is no more than a small pea at the bottom of all those mattresses?
Can we even feel it anymore?
Could Jesus have been talking to us when he said:
And the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in, choke the word, and it becometh unfruitful.
To the Catholic Church's credit, they spent 18 years working to reform the Church at the Council of Trent (three different sessions between 1545 and 1563).
They were serious.
What would happen if we all took a hard look at our own religions and convened hundreds of "Councils of Trent," working together towards a purer religion?
The Real Problem
So what stops us? Why wouldn't we want to follow in Christ's footsteps and live his law?
John W. Malley, a professor at Georgetown University who is a scholar on the Council of Trent, shared this fascinating insight about the obstacle they faced:
"Almost every specific proposal 'to reform the church' had financial implications. The benefice system was at the heart of the way the church operated, so that any reform that touched upon benefices touched upon somebody's pocketbook . . . . Money played a fundamental role in the reforms that Trent tried to legislate, and it explains the resistance those reforms met both during and after the council."
(John W. Malley, Trent: What Happened at the Council, p. 17)
Show Me the Money
If we "follow the money" it will usually guide us to what we love most.
As the saying goes, “Put your money where your mouth is.” And if we find ourselves lip-to-lip with the lecherous maw of mammon, it will certainly be the spiritual kiss of death. It reminds me of what Jesus said to Judas in the garden: "Judas, betrayest thou the Son of man with a kiss?" (Luke 22:48).
What is Mammon? How do we "betray" God when we serve Mammon?
I used to think of Mammon as "the covetousness of riches." But now I view Mammon as being about much more than money. What does money get us? How does it create systems of inequality that place people in bondage? How does Mammon promote pride among those who have riches, status, rank, and power?
** MAMMON ALERT **
Mammon on an individual level is about "the love of money." But far worse, Mammon on an institutional level becomes the way money is used to maintain engines of power, which invariably lead to classes, rank, and inequality.
Look carefully at Mammon's economy:
The merchandise of gold, and silver, and precious stones, and of pearls, and fine linen, and purple, and silk, and scarlet, and all thyine wood, and all manner vessels of ivory, and all manner vessels of precious wood, and of brass, and iron, and marble, and cinnamon, and odours, and ointments, and frankincense, and wine, and oil, and fine flour, and wheat, and beasts, and sheep, and horses and chariots, and slaves, and souls of men.
Religions wield perhaps the greatest "power" by negotiating the conditions of our salvation.
Mammon says: "You want to be saved? Then you have to do [x] and [y] and [z], and pay [a] or [b] or [c], then you may receive the necessary [sacrament] or [ordinance] or [grace] from my hands."
That's the catch: it has to be by my authority, my version of the gospel, my creed, my keys, my church, my priesthood . . . because I am the only one that God approves of.
In other words, the business of religion is not about converting people to the gospel, but converting them to a belief that they must be placed under my authority if they wish to be saved.
What I am describing is "sectarianism," which means an "excessive attachment to a particular sect or party, especially in religion."
On the other hand, Alma said:
For behold, the Lord doth grant unto all nations, of their own nation and tongue, to teach his word.
What did Joseph Smith think about Sectarianism?
Question: Did Joseph Smith encourage his followers to be cliquish and to engage in religious tribalism? Would he have supported the "thought police"?
Thumbs up Seven Up! Let's find out the answer.
Story of Pelatiah Brown
In 1843 a member of the church named Pelatiah Brown was teaching about the Book of Revelation.
He got in trouble for his interpretation of John's vision. And he was taken to a church court and tried for his "crimes" of teaching false doctrine (sound familiar?).
Joseph Smith came to Brother's Brown's defense and said in a public sermon:
"Elder Pelatiah Brown, one of the wisest old heads we have among us, and whom I now see before me, has been preaching concerning the beast which was full of eyes before and behind; and for this he was hauled up for trial before the High Council.
"I do not like the old man being called up for erring in doctrine. It looks too much like the Methodist, and not like the Latter-day Saints. Methodists have creeds which a man must believe or be asked out of their church.
"I want the liberty of thinking and believing as I please. It feels so good not be trammeled. . . .
"Why should we find fault? Anything to whip sectarianism, to put down priestcraft, and bring the human family to a knowledge of the truth."
(Joseph Smith, History of the Church, vol. 5, pp. 340-341)
Answer: Joseph really disliked sectarianism.
World's Greatest Sectarians
As Joseph Smith pointed out in the above quote, sectarianism and priestcraft go hand-in-hand like old high school sweethearts.
Why is that?
Because the name of the game, in order to profit from religion, is to convince others that we have found the straight and narrow whilst everyone else is going to hell?
The Book of Mormon, from cover to cover, shreds the notions of sectarianism apart. I mean, for half the book there wasn't even a church!
The Zoramites were real gems. On church-day, the Zoramites headed to the synagogue and walked up the Rameumptom and cried with a loud voice to God, saying:
Holy, holy God; we believe that thou art God, and . . . that thou hast separated us from our brethren; and we do not believe in the tradition of our brethren, which was handed down to them by the childishness of their fathers; but we believe that thou hast elected us to be thy holy children; and also thou hast made it known unto us that there shall be no Christ.
But thou art the same yesterday, today, and forever; and thou hast elected us that we shall be saved, whilst all around us are elected to be cast by thy wrath down to hell; for the which holiness, O God, we thank thee.
The Good News
Okay, now its time for the good news. Which is, of course, the Good News! There is a more excellent way.
Here comes John the Baptist, swinging an axe at the trunk of the law of Moses in order to make room for Christ's tender gospel to grow, telling us that membership in a given group is not what saves us:
[Do] not say: We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, That God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.
So what matters in the end? The wild prophet invites us to "bring forth fruits worthy of repentance. . . . [He] which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire" (Luke 3:8-9)
What Are Worthy Fruits?
If you're wondering, as I am, what a "worthy" fruit looks like, John tells us:
And the people asked him, saying, What shall we do then?
He answereth and said unto them, He that hath two coats, let him impart to him that hath none; and he that hath meat, let him do likewise.
Now the fun part! What did John tell the religious leaders?
Then came also the publicans to be baptized, and said unto him, Master, what shall we do?
According to the custom of their law [they] receiv[ed] money into the treasury, that out of the abundance which was received, was appointed unto the poor, every man his portion;
And after this manner did the publicans also, wherefore, John said unto them, Exact no more than that which is appointed unto you.
(KJV Luke 3:12-13; JST Luke 3:19-20)
Let's summarize: God forbids religious leaders exacting that which He has "appointed unto the poor."
This is what Malachi was referring to!
Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings.
Imagine those words being spoken to the religious leaders, who control the finances of a church. Cross reference that with the story of the sons of Eli found in 1 Samuel 2:12-36. (If you read that passage, you'll get the gist of what we're talking about.)
I will raise up a faithful priest, that shall do according to that which is in mine heart and in my mind.