Only 4 percent of survey respondents said that Unity makes considerable demands of its members in terms of money and time, and 84 percent disagreed. In most Unity churches, the principle of tithing is presented that you should give back ten percent to the person, group or organization which gives you spiritual nourishment, which may or may not be Unity. (In explaining this principle during a membership class, Barrette said he and his wife don't give to the local Unity church because they get their spiritual nourishment elsewhere, which allows them to be able to give spiritually at the church where they work.) This prosperity principle is only occasionally mentioned in regular worship services in Albuquerque. Rather, it is mentioned in membership classes and taught in the 4T Prosperity Program, which is a 12-week seminar on "group prayer and processes for removing one's blocks to abundant life — which includes and moves beyond your financial well-being" (Christ Unity Church, January 1997, p. 1). Participants in the program are asked to commit to tithing their time, talent and treasure for 12 weeks. To reassure anyone who is wary that this may simply be a financial ploy for the church instead of a true spiritual law, the announcement in the newsletter states, "Success and prosperity are actually guaranteed — or you receive your tithes back!" (p. 1). Barrette said that since he has been a minister he has presented the 4T program to between 400 and 500 people and two people have asked for their tithes back.
The non-demanding nature of Unity is based on the principle that prosperity, health and success are abundant and that all one needs to do is trust that God will provide you with what is necessary. Laboring over the reasons the money is needed, or what will happen if it is not received, does not fit with Unity philosophy because it dwells on the negative. Individual churches are not required to tithe to the international organizations (Unity School and the Association of Unity Churches), but many churches do. The non-demanding attitude is relatively pervasive throughout the movement, although there are exceptions due to the local control of each church. For example, the Seattle Unity Church sent out a financial request letter in Sept. 1996, and at least one Sunday service included a stewardship speaker and a list of those who had already agreed to be "stewardship families" was printed in the bulletin. This more traditional attitude toward financial giving, however, is not the norm in most Unity churches.
The lack of demands for money is appreciated by Barbara, who said she feels that the church is able to meet its financial needs because people realize without being told that the money is needed.
I never heard a sermon on tithing [at Unity]. Prosperity maybe, but not tithing. And I think that's good. I don't think people like that. Maybe one thing is it makes you feel guilty if you don't do it. But in other churches I've been to they would preach at least once or twice a year on tithing and talk about it a lot. I think most people realize it takes money to run a business, the physical part of it, and the fact that Unity does so much, they give away a lot of their publications, and somebody's got to pay for it.
In some ways the principles of reverse psychology may apply to church giving. Isabel, for example, said she is put off by frequent requests for money and remembers going to Catholic services where the offering plate would be passed twice. When asked about Unity's monetary demands, she said, "It's just the opposite. I give more because I'm not asked."
Unity's attitude toward finances does not mean that there is never any mention of money. Christ Unity Church, for example, publishes financial information in the monthly newsletter, so participants know when there is a shortfall or a surplus. When money is needed for a specific project at the Albuquerque church, a simple statement like the following appears in the Sunday bulletin:
GOD IS OUR SOURCE, but if you want to assist God, we give thanks in advance for our perfect plain paper fax machine and our perfect flat bed or paper feed scanner in the Church Office. Thank you God.
This message was followed several months later by another note, "Thank you to all who contributed to our new fax machine and paper feed scanner! Thank you, God! Our new fax number is . . ." The same technique has been used for carpeting, parking lot repair and other projects. Of course, this is just an unusual way (at least when compared to mainline churches) of asking for money. This method lets the church community know when there is a need and lets participants decide without demands and lists of repercussions whether or not they want to contribute. This seems to work in Albuquerque, where the high average education level and occupational status suggest that the congregation would also have a relatively high income level. Further studies of Unity could investigate whether this financial attitude works with congregations which have a lower socioeconomic status.
© 1997, Rebecca Gittrich Whitecotton
All rights reserved by the author.
Reprinted with permission.