Can You Get a Refund on a Tithe? February 26, 2010

Can You Get a Refund on a Tithe?

For ten years when he was younger, reader Brody gave a tithe — 10% of every gift and paycheck went directly back to his church. Since he was in his teens most of that time, that amounted to only one or two thousand dollars. But still, that’s money that could have been better used elsewhere.

Brody is now 30 and he remembers something his pastor said to him when he went to church:

Our pastor said that everything was given by god, and anything entrusted back to him will result in blessings. He was so sure of this, he guaranteed it. He said that if you tithe faithfully, and ever feel that your life has not been blessed in return, the church will refund the money.

You’re kidding me… a church with a money-back guarantee?!

Worst. Marketing. Idea. Ever.

Not that Brody’s life is bad, but we know the church and belief in a god had nothing to do with that.

So Brody is wondering what he should do:

I’m sure it wouldn’t really lead to a check from the church, but just asking for it could be a symbolic rejection of the superstition and dogma I was taught.

On the other hand, my parents are still very active in the church and might be hurt by the circumstances (both emotionally and socially, within the church).

What would you advise?

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Ian

    I’d probably just treat it at a written off donation. While his view is that religion didn’t lead to his good life, I’m sure his pastor would disagree and refuse to return the money. It’s an interesting circumstance, but pushing this will only make the reader look callous and cheap.

  • Revyloution

    If mom and pop weren’t in the picture, Id say go for the refund! I feel that people always come first. If we do that, then the world is a better place. Brody should put his parents feelings before any assault on the church.

    That is assuming that his parents respect his decisions and beliefs.

    By the way, nice hat Ian.

  • Rix

    Ask yourself why you gave the money to begin with. Was it for something intangible like being “Blessed”? Was it because you planed on asking for it back later when you changed your mind? Was it because your parents were looking over your shoulder pressuring you to do this?

    It doesn’t matter why. When you give a gift, donation, or whatever you give up all control of it. Kiss it good-bye and consider yourself lucky to not have lost more. Don’t be bitter. Learn from this.

  • It would definitely be an interesting legal case, but doesn’t seem worth it. Rejecting the dogma (even without suing anyone) contains plenty of opportunities to be ostracized from the community.

  • Ben

    Here’s the gotcha: He said that if you tithe faithfully

    No doubt if he went to the church they’d claim his tithing wasn’t “faithful”, since he turned out to be an atheist.

  • fritzy

    Although I find the whole thing humorous, I say let it go. You will look petty, may get people pissed at your parents or your parents ticked off at you–and for what? You probably wont get the money back. As someone pointed out, when you give a gift, you don’t expect to get it back. And please don’t take legal action–the last thing this world needs is another Michael Newdow.

  • Richard Wade

    Making symbolic rejections of the superstition and dogma one was taught will not bring on the final stage of freedom. Complete freedom is not thinking about it at all, unless someone else brings up some old memory, like “Hey, do you remember tithing when you were a kid?”

    The response of a completely free person would be, “Huh? Oh yeah, I sort of remember something like that, vaguely.”

    Be free.

  • Ann

    If his family wasn’t still involved with the church, I’d say go for it. But since there are parental units involved, he should pass to avoid any drama or hurt feelings.

  • Look forward, don’t look back. The past is the past; you have a life ahead of you to live. Plus, there’s no percentage in alienating your parents if you want to continue a relationship with them.

  • stephanie

    Let it go, Grasshopper.

    There’s a concept known as sunk costs (emotional and intangible ones as well as financial), and the sooner someone accepts them as simply part of the daily cost of living the easier it is for future actions.

  • Carl

    Hang on, why are people talking about ‘suing’ all of a sudden? I do think it would be interesting to ask for the money back, in a good-natured and thought-provoking way – like Hemant “selling his soul”.

    It doesn’t have to get nasty, no need to call in the lawyers, and he probably won’t get his money back, but I, for one, would be interested to see how it plays out.

  • Kahomono

    If you’re “out” as an atheist to your parents, ask them if they’re cool with you pursuing the claim. They might surprise you.

    If they are not cool with it or you’re not out to them then (and presuming you value your relationship with them) then consider it tuition.

  • The church lied about the refund just like they lied about everything else. So? That’s how churches operate.

  • MH

    There’s a phrase “happy people make bad drama” explains why so many characters in literature are really screwed up. I’ve found the converse “No drama tends to make happy people” to work in real life.

    So I would let it go for your own sake.

  • gski

    I believe the church should be held to their promises just like everybody else. Good luck. If you try for it, put in writing that you want a check payable to some other charity and they should send it directly to that charity.

  • Tim

    Just do it and post the results, please. 8)

  • Kaylya

    Yeah, absolutely if you do attempt it direct the funds to some secular charity (I mean something like Doctors Without Borders or something that does charitable work while not being religious, not a group that exists to further the cause of atheism).

  • Ron in Houston

    Hmmm, I’d check the small print. What exactly does “blessed” mean?

    Gee, you didn’t die slowly and painfully of a horrible disease so you’re clearly “blessed.”

  • I would recommend letting it go.

    But if you must stir up some controversy, you could do the following:

    Publically proclaim that you are entitled to a refund because you had previously faithfully regularly tithed but you feel that your life has not been blessed in return. But out of the goodness of your heart, you are not asking for the refund.

    Just getting that out there may do one of two things:

    1. it might put the “fear of refund” into the church deacons and they might change their stated policy (which would be kind-of embarrassing for them).
    2. It also might tempt some others to claim the same thing but due to financial need go ahead and ask for the refund. Then let someone else go through the trials and tribulations of fighting the church on this one. Perhaps some financially hard-up true-believing Christian who has had a turn of misfortune in life.

  • Just walk away. You gave it with good intentions over a decade ago. Shoot – I bought a weight bench with good intentions over a decade ago, and though the store accepts returns it would be foolish to return it now just because there were no results.

    Besides – with your parents still involved, if you announce to them the intent to try to get a refund you will throw more trouble at them than they deserve (even though they were the ones who got you involved in the church in the first place). They’d probably try to pay it to you themselves, meaning your “symbolic rejection of superstition” would effectively and unintentionally be turned into “extorting money from your parents.”

    Walk away – that church is not worth any more of your energy.

  • Mark

    I would expect that, when he asks for his money back, they will have a sudden case of amnesia and they won’t remember ever promising such a refund. Unless he has some sort of proof, he won’t get anywhere with his refund request.

    The deeper sadness is that churches in America today are cash flow businesses. They lie to you and take your cash and put it in their pocket and tell you it was a gift to God. In any other industry they would all be in jail for lying and fraud but because its religion in America no one does anything about it. The scam is so well orchestrated that they don’t even have to pay any taxes on all those profits.

    There is a church near me that is so bold that they announce to their congregation that they are tracking the average income of the community and if the average cash flow into the church isn’t at least 10 percent of that community figure then they are all going to hell.

    I also found out that new church planters are carefully researching the income of a community before planting a church to help guarantee a bigger cash flow for themselves. Its turning into a fraud of epidemic proportions.

    The church in America today is a bigger scam than Bernie Madoff, Enron and the wall street bankers all put together.

    If you are a Christian and you are concerned about these crimes being committed by the church in the name of Jesus, there is something simple you can do. Stop giving them your money. Give your tithes directly to the poor as Jesus commanded. If we all stopped funding this organized crime then the church would quickly get back on the path to righteousness.

    Any of you history buffs out there might recognize that I’m saying the exact same things that Martin Luther said about the Christian church way back in the year 1517. Yes folks, this crime has been going on for a very long time but its not too late to do something about it.

  • Ask for the money back….and then if the church refuses to pay publicise it.

    It’s your life..not your parents.

  • Katie

    Assuming that you tossed your tithe into an open basket, without a receipt or tracking of any sort it would be impossible to know how much the total of your tithing was.
    The church, no doubt, would apologetically say “Oh, of course, we’d be happy to refund your tithe- just bring in the receipts. Oh, no receipts? I’m afraid we can’t help you. So sorry.”

    As much as it would be nice to get your couple grand back (who doesn’t like money?) I’d guess that the amount of time you spend on it would not equal what you’d get out of it.

    Although I do really like the idea of asking the church, with an approximate dollar amount, to donate to Doctors Without Borders or the like.

    They might actually go for that because they could stick to their stated policy and probably write the donation off as well.

  • muggle

    This is just plain silly. Let it go and get on with your life. Living well is the best revenge.

    When I lost my religion, I found it utterly freeing and spread my wings and flew. Why are you hung up about something so trivial? Not to mention, there really is no guarantee here. Not unless you can legally defined such a vague term as blessed. You didn’t exactly have a written contract and good luck.

    The only thing that will happen if you bother the church will be to give the minister (so sorry to see you so troubled and he’s only concerned about one of the flock’s well-being and all that bullshit) a chance to sit you down for an attempt to draw you back in and tithe you now disguised as sympathy and worry about you and your lost soul.

    Fuck the church! Give yourself a break and spare yourself that. It’s worth whatever money you put in as a kid that probably really came from your parents or at least from your parents allowing you to work.

    Geeze, dude, are you sure you’ve really made the break? Because if you did, you’d want to run, not walk, to the nearest exit.

  • Ha ha! Just imagine the possibilities, pick the most interesting one, and write a book about it. Earn the money back.

  • Isabel Jones

    Ben… I do share your pov here. I’ve tried, just for fun, here in Brazil. What I heard was “If you don’t believe, how can I believe that you were sincere then ?”

  • keddaw

    These people ripped you off when you were a minor. They offered a service with no way or intention of providing it. Blessings??? Get in front of a secular judge and see how a blessed life differs from a non-blessed life.

    Giving you your money back is the very least they can do – they should be lucky you’re not suing for more than that.

    NB. I’m from the UK and find the idea of a tithe to be insulting, ridiculous, unscrupulous and potentially illegal.

  • Tricia

    Let it go. The damage to your parents’ social relationships, and potentially to your own relationship with you parents, is not worth the symbolic flip-off to the church.

  • Well, we’ve come to the conclusion that it is basically a scam, and like all other purchases or investments we make in something that are not what they actually advertised to be, are false, or are defective that also offer a money back guarantee, I would ask for my money back.
    If you ordered a product from any other source that scammed you, you would want your money back. If a commercial was on TV that advertised a cure-all elixir with a money back guarantee, you ordered it and made 4 payments of $500 on it, and it didn’t cure whatever illness you had, you would take advantage of that money back guarantee. This is no exception.
    You got ripped off on a product that offered a money back guarantee. Get your money back. They want to bullshit around with you, I would call them on it. They need to honor their guarantee. They already took advantage of you, your time, your wallet, etc… A few extra minutes more to request your money back is not a waste of time. Your parents are adults, they can handle any possible backlash. And there shouldn’t be any backlash for their own policy anyways.

  • lurker111

    Let sleeping gods lie.

  • stogoe

    the last thing this world needs is another Michael Newdow.

    I don’t know why you feel you need to kick Michael Newdow, dude. The halls of this country’s government are wrongly infested with religious paraphenalia, and someone needs to start the herculean task of mucking the stables.

  • The only problem with asking the church to spend the tithe on some charity is that most churches spend about 10% of their tithe income charities anyway. The rest goes to “overhead” (utilities, property, salaries, evangelism, maintenance, etc). Through a relatively simple accounting trick, they could simply account for your tithe as a larger proportion of the 10% they would spend anyway on charities without affecting their bottom line at all. The best you could hope for is to try to influence which charity they give to but churches are very particular in who they give money to. They may fiercely resist any secular charitable organization. Many churches view charity as only a means (or vehicle) to evangelize.

  • Why apply it charity though? It wasn’t originally applied to charity, it was a way to buy blessings \ good fortune. It was a purchase. If they were to refund your money, you are not obligated to apply it to some charity.

  • Polly

    symbolic rejection of the superstition and dogma I was taught.

    I don’t buy these bullshit pretexts. What’s the real reason?

    Is it possible you didn’t ask your parents what they think because you already know it would hurt and embarrass them?

    Are you angry about wasted time and money spent on church?

    We always talk about the social ostracizing and disadvantages of being atheist. So, I’m skeptical when someone goes out of their way to flaunt their atheism, especially when it potentially adversely affects those close to them.

  • gski

    Just to clarify a couple of points in my original post. By charity I meant any non profit. Brody, not the church should specify the recipient. The purpose of giving away the refund is two fold. First to show the church community that Brody is not just trying to get money from them, this adds credibility to his claim. Second if the money is going to a non profit it puts a little more pressure on the church. The purpose of having the check issued directly to the recipient is to establish a paper trail that confirms that Brody did not keep the money.

  • ATL-Apostate

    Don’t do it man.
    Just consider it “stupid tax,” i.e., a tax on you for being stupid in the past. Don’t take that the wrong way. I’m a former xtian, and have paid my share of stupid tax as well.

    The turmoil such a request might stir up for your parents is probably not worth whatever sense of satisfaction you might achieve by making said request.

  • The recipient should be him. It was his money, and if they honor their policy and return it as they should, he should be able do with it as he pleases. The church shouldn’t have to be pressured to honor their own money back guarantee and he shouldn’t have to prove his credibility. He simply needs to express that he doesn’t “feel” that his life was blessed in return for tithing faithfully. He may indeed of even had some good fortune, but as long as he doesn’t “feel” it was on account of “tithing faithfully,” it is within their policy. There shouldn’t be any friction. He was scammed, and should get his money back, it is as simple as that. He doesn’t need to give it up to a non-profit or non-prophet organization.

    It is a sad day if he has to be frightened or bullied into not doing it because his parents might get a negative backlash because the church must honor their own policy. It’s not much of a money-back “guarantee” if everybody must feel threatened to take advantage of it. Same scare tactics as threatening believers with hell fire if they don’t obey what they claim to be the word of a god. His parents should support his decision.

  • Deiloh

    If the letter is written to the main office, it isn’t likely that his parents will ever hear of it. A response, if he gets one, will probably yammer on about the importance of tithe, prayer, and shunning sin. He will not get his money back. If he prefers to write the pastor who offered the money back, his parents wont hear anything directly but the pastor might want to schedule a meeting with the family to see what’s up. Again, he will not get the money back.

    Could be worse, I’ve sunk about 100k into the church. Ignorance is so damned expensive.

  • billybee

    I did get a refund from the church. It is a long story and not one that I could even begin to detail here…but…I received a $3200.00 payback (of tithes) from Calvary Chapel in Boise, Idaho.

    I have written to several web blogs and podcasts with my story about my “Refund from Jesus”, but have never gotten much of a response. This amazes me that more people would not be interested in how I did it…

    Oh well….

  • Isabel Jones

    billybee, please ? Let me know how you got it. I live far from America, but I have most of the problems you have there. Being an atheist is complicated but it is also so cool to see how this complication works worldwide.

  • @Deiloh, I’m glad you wised up and stopped tithing. Its a shame how much some people will end up paying after a lifetime of tithing.

    This is a much better deal, anyway, for your money if you are religiously inclined. 😉

    @billybee, I’m sure lots of people here would be very curious about your story. Perhaps send Hemant an email with all the details and he can do a dedicated post about it.

  • sc0tt

    billybee says:
    I did get a refund from the church.

    That sounds really interesting. I was going to suggest that Brody turn his story into a newspaper column or something as a way of dealing with the frustration.

  • I was going to say let it go but I noticed a few suggestions of sending the money to a secular charity. If that is the direction he goes then I would fully support it. Just to get his money back? Not worth it.

  • The First Rule of Acquisition: Once you have their money, you never give it back.

    It is well worth asking for a refund because the worst thing that can happen is that they say “Bugger off”. You’ve paid a subscription for a service. Granted the service is poorly defined and rather nebulous but a service has still been purchased. Upon reflection the service has not been adequately delivered and as a result a full refund may be requested.

    There is certainly no need to sue anyone at this stage. Simply lay out the amount spent on the service and the reasons for the refund and wait for a response. I imagine an offer of partial payment will be made in due course along with a non-disclosure clause. That’s what I’d do if I’d conned people out of 10% of their income and wanted to avoid publicity.

    Is there any reason why this wouldn’t apply to a church?

  • fritzy


    Because Newdow looks like a persnikty ass, fruitlessly attempting to pick away at minutiae. I don’t think that Yahwey, or Zeus, or Zoraster, or any other invisible sky-monster belongs in the pledge of allegiance (hell, I don’t think the pledge belongs in schools–kids have no idea what pledging allegiance means, and why would you ally yourself with a gaudy peice of cloth at any rate?) but he would do much better to go after the souce of these intrusions. Start by taking cases that violate the first amendment that a majority of the population feels comfortable getting behind–there’s plenty of them. Next thing you know, the mention of deities in any state sponsored arena practically disappear on their own. Plus, he makes atheists look like petty assholes, and frankly, image is important, particularly when you are a minority group largely detested by society.

    As for Brody, I still say “let it go.” Don’t you just want to be over and done with the religion thing as much as possible? Why draw it out man? Move on and feel happy (and a little smug if you like; you’ve earned it) that you are no longer one of the suckers that can kiss 10% of your paycheck goodbye every month.

  • “He said that if you tithe faithfully, and ever feel that your life has not been blessed in return, the church will refund the money.”

    Unfortunately for Brody, a crafty pastor will simply respond to his initial statement by stating that Brody must not have been faithful in his tithes, therefore no money back.

    Bunch of crooks with divinity degrees!

  • Staceyjw

    Do it, and do so unapologetically.

    I love my parents and consider their feelings as much as I can, but some things you just have to do as your own person, regardless of the consequences. Asking for cash back just doesn’t qualify as something that will devastate any sane parent, so I wouldn’t worry about it.

    I agree with Travis on this one- anyone else making a money back guarantee on a claim, but not fulfilling it, would be expected to return the money. Like other scams, you won’t see a dime, but why take it lying down? What you do with the money is your business.

    So what if others think it’s petty?! For me 2k is important enough to pursue, even without the symbolic act attached to it. I don’t think you will get it, but pursuing it would sure be a story worth telling. This church made a HUGE claim, it’s high time they were called out for it.

    Everyone leaves religion differently, some are happy to walk (or RUN), others want to stand and be heard before they go.

  • Bret

    You say your not blessed but your happy. Some would say that just by you being able to put all this on the internet would mean your blessed. Me I say if you can spell better then me your blessed with a gift I dont have. As an athiset you say you dont belive in God. I as a christion I say God belives in you. And to go ahead and ask you old pastor about the refund unless your scared you wont like his answer as to how you truely are blessed.

  • Rick

    Well at the church I attend you get a receipt for everything you have tithed the 2nd week of January. The idea of tithe a tithe is not to secure only financial prosperity but it shows your faith in God. Jesus paid the ultimate price for our sins and all God is asking in return is 10% of income and to obey his word. You get your blessings from having a giving heart and if u give only to see what you can get back than you may as well keep your money. I can assure u will be blessed if u have a giving heart. The owner of JC Penney gave 90% and kept only 10% and now he has one of the biggest department stores. God may not show up when u want him to but when he does it will be worth it…..God Bless

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