Selling pieces of yourself to pay tithing…

December 7th has been kind of a meaningful day to me in years past. A lot of significant things have happened on this day. Pearl Harbor was attacked in 1941. Armenia suffered a devastating earthquake in 1988. A very good friend of mine was born in 1971. And it’s also the day Mike Haury died in 1988. Mike Haury was a football player at my high school. I never knew him personally, but I knew who he was. He was very popular and well-liked. Though he was not a naturally gifted athlete, he was the type of person to work really hard at something until he succeeded. So it was with football, which I remember was his game of choice.

I see by the Dukes’ Dispatch, for which I was once a reporter back in the 80s, Mike Haury and several other people I knew in high school on the golf team, are now considered “Hall of Fame” members at our high school. He also got an article written about him in the Daily Press, as well as a field house named after him.

Anyway, during my junior year and his senior year, Mike suffered bruising and fatigue. I remember he played in the first couple of football games that year, but suddenly got very sick and was eventually sent to the Clinical Center at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. He was sent to such a high speed hospital because he had aplastic anemia. I guess there was medical research going on at the time he was sick, and perhaps that was his best hope of survival. Unfortunately, he did not survive, and he passed away on the same day Armenians lost over 25,000 people to an earthquake.

In 1988, I had no idea that I would one day live in Armenia. I was probably one of the few in my school that had even heard of the country, which was at that time part of the Soviet Union. That was because of one of my elementary school teachers, who happened to be living in rural Virginia at a time when not many people of Armenian descent lived in the South.

My fourth grade teacher, Mr. A, was descended from Armenians who had left their homeland for Turkey and later the United States. I remembered hearing him talk about Armenia when I was a kid, about how all of the last names end in “ian” or “yan”. His reasoning for the common last name endings was kind of stupid. He said it was for “Christian”– as Armenia was the first country to adopt Christianity as its state religion before it went communist. I thought it sounded like an interesting place. I didn’t know that 14 years later, I’d live there. I certainly didn’t know, back on December 7th, 1988, that the country where I would temporarily make my home just seven years later, was suffering such a tremendous natural disaster. When I was in Armenia, parts of the country were still decimated by the quake. It looks like rebuilding is still going on today.

I remember the day Mike died. His passing was announced on the school’s P.A. system. You could have heard a pin drop in our school. Everyone was stunned into silence. I was quiet too, even though Mike wasn’t one of my friends and I don’t think I’d ever even spoken to him. I was not one of the popular people in high school. But he was much admired and even kind of revered in my school. Over thirty years later, I see that people still haven’t forgotten him.

What does this story have to do with the title of today’s post? Well… this morning as I was waking up, I was reading RfM, and someone posted that they knew a man who sold his plasma to pay tithing to the LDS church. I know a lot of religious people think that tithing is very important. When I used to be a social worker, I had a religious client who had money problems, but faithfully saved ten percent of her money to give to the church. She felt it was important… indeed, she thought it was imperative, and she refused to consider that her money might be better spent on things like food, housing, medical care, and other necessities. I remember thinking it was kind of stupid to tithe when you can’t pay your rent, but then I’m not a particularly religious person.

I had heard of people doing extreme things to pay tithing to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Years ago, I heard that poor people in Brazil sold their gold fillings to help pay for a temple. People on the thread I linked wrote of running up credit card bills or taking out loans to pay tithing to a church that makes lots of money. Today was the first time I had read about someone literally bleeding for the cause. I can see selling plasma to pay for food or shelter, but it seems crazy to sell it to pay tithes to a church that pays for everything in cash. This is a church that no longer pays for custodians and, instead, expects church members to take care of the buildings. At the same time, anyone who needs assistance from the church’s welfare system is required to work for free. Seems to me that they could hire people to clean the buildings and give them the means to pay their own ways.

Side effects from donating plasma include dehydration, dizziness, fainting, fatigue, bruising, discomfort, infection, arterial puncture, and rarely, a citrate reaction, which is a potentially very serious complication that can lead to spasms, vomiting, shock, and cardiac arrest. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think it’s a bad thing to donate plasma, since it is a vital resource that saves lives. I just don’t think church members should feel compelled to donate it, especially when the “blessings” that come from tithing are rather negligible. I doubt that tithing would have saved Mike Haury or the many Armenians who perished when their poorly built high rise apartment buildings collapsed during the twenty second earthquake that changed everything and ended lives.

People will do all kinds of crazy things, though, when they think they might be blessed somehow. Plasma donation doesn’t even pay that well, and to do it more times than recommended just to pay tithing to a church seems ridiculous to me. People that repeatedly donate plasma probably feel symptoms similar to Mike Haury’s, when he first started getting sick back in 1988. The fact that the guy is letting it be known that he’s selling plasma for the church says that he also expects a pat on the head for being “righteous”. I don’t think someone is admirable for selling parts of their body to fund churches. There is nothing heroic about that, in my view. I think it’s stupid. God helps those who help themselves, right? Maybe some people think that tithing is “helping themselves” by helping the church. Count me among those who think that you have to help yourself before you can offer assistance to others… same as when you’re in a plane crash. Put your own mask on before you help your neighbor.