Speaking in Tongues, the SBS religious chat show featuring
non-practising Jew, John Safran, and larrikin Melbourne Catholic
priest, Father Bob McGuire, debuted last night and pulled a reasonable
average audience of 344,000 viewers. By contrast the repeat of South Park at 8.30
pm was watched by more than 472,000 people and the new episode of Mythbusters 7.30 pm, the most popular SBS show, was
watched by an average 965,000 viewers.

Tips and comments on the question of “business and the church”
have been pouring in to [email protected] so keep it up ahead of
tomorrow morning’s pre-recorded interview for episode two. Here is a
sample of some of your feedback:

Kevin Cox writes:

Why are we so surprised that the churches are into commerce? The
churches have always been into commerce. Religion should be viewed as
part of the entertainment and leisure industries and this fiction about
non-profit should be abandoned as should all other non-profit/non-taxed
organisations. If you indulge in economic activity then you
should be part of the same system. Why should I support the Anglican
Church through it being exempt from taxation? Bringing the non-profits
into the taxation system is one of those issues that fail to get a
mention when we talk about tax reform.

Thomas writes:

Many Christians feel uneasy about the Church holding wealth,
and nearly all, Protestants and Catholics alike, express apprehension
about the
coffers when we are called to give to the poor. Our whole society seems
to be
ontologically suspicious about wealth in the Church. The main response
is “Who
else would you have possess the wealth?” When we hear of a Church or
religion dabbling in a venture we immediately cry foul, but would we
prefer our
money to be going towards fast cars, boozy meals, and political
donations? If
the Church is a company, she outstrips every other in philanthropic
endeavours. As for Vatican coffers, John Allen, an American Vatican
correspondent and biographer of Benedict XVI, writes in his book, All the Pope’s Men, of the regular
deficits that the Vatican runs and the difficulty of holding properties that
cannot be sold or even used as security.

Joel writes:

Although they
don’t seem to have any prominent interests in Australia, one example of an
aggressively commercial church is the Church of Latter Day Saints, which
actually has an intentional program of investing the tithes they receive from
members into commercial ventures.

James writes:
Much of your quoted figure is based upon the priceless artworks in the
Vatican that will never be sold and are insured for $1.
The new evangelical churches (such as Hillsong) which are more like
businesses, with compulsory tithes of 10% are dangerous. The uproar over
these plainly money making organisations could take away the tax rebates of
the Anglican and Catholic churches – who are the main providers of social
services in this nation? The money of these churches is used for charity and
providing for the basic amenities of pastors.
The business like Assemblies
of God Churches are giving institutionalised Religion, which plainly benefits
society, a bad name by association.
A sad state of affairs.

Mark writes:
This probably isn’t the sort of thing you’re looking for, but my
perspective is that of a satisfied customer of the Uniting Church’s
financial services. We have insured our car through the UC
Insurance Agency for nearly ten years with plenty of good communication
and no hassles, and are just about to open a couple of term
deposit-type trust accounts for our children with UC Invest. We
understand that such profits as are realised from these operations
are put back into things like church property improvement and
maintenance, which obviously we have no problem with. We also
have direct knowledge of several instances where this has in fact
happened. Another, more self-interested motivation for going with
the likes of UC Invest is that while of course you can never be certain
about these things, you would hope that these operations are run and
overseen by, to put it baldly, honest people. Certainly the
probability of this should be greater than in the mainstream financial
sector, as you may well be
able to attest! The interest rates offered are reasonably
competitive without being outstanding. Nor can I see a problem with
churches doing ‘property deals’. They are basically managing their
worldly assets responsibly — see Matthew
25: 14-30! In short, I struggle to see much tension between
commercial interests and ‘faith, education and the provision of
healthcare, charitable or retirement services.’