24 April 2020  |

Dear Aunt Sevvy,

Recently our congregation got a new pastor. One of the first things he did was call our treasurer and tell her to bring him the church financial records so he could evaluate which members were paying honest tithes and offerings. When the treasurer balked, he became upset and told her that the conference president had told him he could do this. Many in the church are angry, and told the treasurer they don’t want anyone looking at their records but her. What do you think?

Signed, Feeling Invaded

Dear Invaded

The Church Manual says that not just pastors can do this, but a surprising number of others.

The treasurer’s books and other financial records relating to the work of the treasurer, the church school treasurer, and the treasurer of any other organization may be called for and inspected at any time by the conference auditor or by the pastor, district leader, head elder, or by any others authorized by the church board, but should not be made available to unauthorized persons (p. 85).

Did you know your giving records were potentially open to so many people? In a world in which financial privacy is a huge concern, a policy this broad seems problematic, and Aunt Sevvy fears it could lead to conflict and resentment. 

And indeed, when Aunty asked a number of denominational leaders this question, every one of them said that while pastors can do this, wise pastors won’t. All said they believed tithe and offering records should only be inspected by conference auditors. One conference president I talked to said, “It tells me that the pastor is a poor leader,” and said that part of the conference’s instruction to treasurers is to contact them if the pastor makes that request, so someone from the office can discuss it with him. 

One made this suggestion, which may work in your situation: 

Assuming the church board stands with the treasurer, let the board vote that the pastor visit all the members and get a signed consent from them to have their records seen. The treasurer can then comply for those who have given their permission, and keep the records of the others private. 

In our litigious world, getting consent is only common sense. Aunt Sevvy will tell you that if she found out that the pastor and head elder were studying her giving and drawing inferences about either her income or her spirituality, she would send her donations elsewhere. 

Aunt Sevvy

You can write to Aunt Sevvy at DearAuntSevvy@gmail.com. Please keep questions or comments short. What you send us at this address won’t necessarily be, but could be, published—always without real names. Aunt Sevvy writes her own column, and neither her opinions nor those of her correspondents are necessarily those of Adventist Today’s editors.

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