Authors Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom take a detailed look at the native Apache tribe of what is now the Southwestern United States. The Spanish were unsuccessful in subduing this wild band. The Mexicans likewise failed. At first, the Americans fared no better. For hundreds of years the Apache maintained their independence against all would-be colonizers, threatening American power right up to the turn of the twentieth century.
Then, the American government gave the Apache tribal leaders cows. And everything changed. Once in possession of this rare resource, and with the buffalo population hunted to extinction, wealth in the form of walking, bawling bovines became the virus that ate away Apache society from the inside out. Now the Apache had wealth—ownership of things (cows)—and according to Brafman and Beckstrom, it broke their society.
Wealth is not inherently evil, but it is dangerous; especially for the tribe known as the church. Wealth blinds us to the distress of others as we work to amass our own possessions and protect our ecclesiastical fortunes, trading in a generous, service-directed way of life for bigger profits, softer lifestyles, sacred cows and strategies we proudly call “faithfulness.”
Americans give more to churches and religious organizations than any other charitable vehicle. Eighty-five cents out of every dollar given to churches is spent internally and only 2 percent—two cents out of every dollar put in the offering—ever makes it out of our country.
If American churches reallocated the dollars they spend on building construction and maintenance to food and education programs (about $19 billion a year), global starvation and malnutrition would be eliminated in less than a decade. American churches could provide clean drinking water and sanitation to every person on the planet with only 15% of their annual corporate income.
Our wealth must be pushed away from us and out into the world where it can serve God and not our profit-loss statements or our monthly financial reports read in the church business meeting. For neither the Christian nor the church are ends unto themselves – spiritually or materially – but we are called, as the people of God and imitators of Jesus Christ, to bless and serve the world.
It will be in serving others that the church will save itself from becoming nothing more than a spiritualized 501c3 not-for-profit, self-centered corporation, organized for the benefit of donor tax exemption and protecting sacred cows.
Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, speaker, and author of multiple books. You can read more and receive regular e-columns in your inbox at www.ronniemcbrayer.me