The Pentecostal PM and the practice of 'tithing'

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Joanne Penney discusses the prosperity-driven ethos behind the Prime Minister's Pentecostal religion.

FOR EASTER SUNDAY, my family came together as a collective of welfare recipients, the aged and disabled.

We gathered for generic instant coffee and tea bags in a pot. We ate off the everyday china that had been sourced through saving coupons over 25 years ago, the table decorated with a linen tablecloth inherited from my grandmother and a vase of a dozen daisies from the garden. We dined on homemade banana loaf and egg sandwiches to exchange small parcels of chocolate eggs. None of us attended a place of worship, not in light of the harm committed by the Catholic Church but also to avoid the collection plate to which none of us had the means to contribute.

But my low key, low budget Easter was not the only reason I found pictures of Prime Minister Scott Morrison worshipping on Easter Sunday disturbing. It made me remember a time a few years back when a Pentecostal, prosperity-driven church goer talked me into accompanying her to a prayer meeting.

I’d already attended a couple of morning teas held by her church. I met some lovely people, mainly women. I noticed how well dressed and made up they all were, how feminine the women appeared. It was recommended I read a book about being a true woman of God, and that I “hand back” all power in my marriage to my husband. A quick scan of the parking lot showed I was the only person driving a fuel-chewing, somewhat "bogan" car.

After weeks of brushing off invitations to attend a prayer night, I agreed. I really did like these people and I believed that they liked me too.

My friend picked me up and drove us to what was arguably the newest estate in this regional city. The house was a total "McMansion" with open plan living, dimmed lights and about 15 people crammed onto a leather modular lounge suite.

The homeowner led the prayer as the heavily pregnant woman to my right began to grunt and randomly call out "Yes, Father!". I was worried she’d gone into labour, while everyone else seemed oblivious.

The leader announced he was going to go around the group asking what we wanted. Having attended Catholic school, I was used to the prayers of the faithful and knew the general prayers were for the hungry, the homeless, the sick, the dead and for all affected by the latest natural or man-made disaster. I settled on the health of my family, as no one else would’ve picked it. But this is what was I hearing from the others: for our new business Jesus, let it makes more money than we projected, Jesus sell our house quickly and for the price we want, Father I want a higher paying job than the one I’m in.

I was speechless and simply nodded when my turn came. All I said was"Thank you" to the hosts on the way out.

My friend asked me what I’d thought and I told her it wasn’t for me, that I’d been brought up not to pray for material things, to save it for needs instead.

She said:

“But Jesus wants you to prosper, he wants to give you everything, you just have to ask and believe, and tithe. Did you know how important the tithing is? 10% of your income is meant to go to the church.”

I explained that I was raising a daughter on disability, picking up these tutoring gigs when I was well enough and writing articles from home as often as possible. That all up my income was pretty tight, so I didn’t think any church had a right to 10% of my benefits that already put me below the poverty level. My daughter’s needs would always come first.

She dropped me home while informing me that unless I started to tithe, I would remain poor and that was not in the best interests of my daughter.

In 2019, an election year, my Easter Sunday news includes pictures of our current Prime Minister singing and clapping at his church, a Pentecostal church not unlike the one I’d had a near miss with years ago. I cringe. If he truly believes in the health and wealth doctrines then is he gifting – sorry tithing – 10% of his taxpayer-funded salary to this church? That would have to be at least $1,000 a week. Can someone in that position even comprehend what living off welfare is like let alone see the desperate need for welfare payments to rise? Are those of us sick and on welfare just not believing and tithing, thus keeping ourselves sick and poor? How would someone on Newstart even find 10% to donate each week? These aren’t the kind of thoughts I usually associate with Easter.

Given the Prime Minister is just as taxpayer-funded as the unemployed, the aged, the disabled, I wonder if taxpayers would be okay with welfare dollars supporting a church if it came from those struggling to get by rather than the clearly prosperous. I’m going to bet that it’s a no and that there’d be calls for welfare cards to make sure the practice was stopped. If studies such as the University of Washington mega-church study, indicating that it’s the "high" of the mega-church experience that keeps people coming back, are correct, it is an addiction. Our PM might just have a habit, not much different to gambling or drinking.

Joanne Penney is a freelance writer and journalist. You can follow Joanne on Twitter @penneywrites.

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