Study reveals church-goers give more to churches than people who don’t go to church give to those churches

Here’s a headline from Christianity Today:Religious States Donate More to Charity Than Secular States.”

It’s about a new report from the Chronicle of Philanthropy. The problem with that headline is that, well, that’s not actually what the study says.

From CT’s Melissa Steffan:

According to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, Americans in Utah, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, and South Carolina gave the highest percentages of their discretionary income to charity. Of these, only Utah averaged more than 10 percent.

The correlation between the religious preferences of Americans in those states — high density of Mormons in Utah and Protestant Christians in the Bible Belt South — is notable. The report concludes that donors in the most generous region, the South, “give roughly 5.2 percent of their discretionary income to charity — both to religious and to secular groups — compared with donors in the Northeast, who give 4.0 percent.”

Ah, so then giving to “charity” includes giving “both to religious and secular groups.” Like, say, to your church.

So, did the Chronicle also look at such “charitable” giving if donations to churches are not included? Yes, actually, they did.

However, the data also indicate that “the generosity ranking changes when religion is taken out of the picture. People in the Northeast give the most, providing 1.4 percent of their discretionary income to secular charities, compared with those in the South, who give 0.9 percent.”

In other words, pretty much the opposite of Christianity Today’s triumphalist headline. The study actually shows that the religious are much more likely to give to religion. Church members, apparently, are likelier to donate to their churches than non-church members are.

What a remarkable finding. How surprising. How newsworthy.

Set aside those “charitable” donations to local churches, and the study shows that the churchier regions are generally stingier toward “secular” charities. You know, like those secular categories of the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and the imprisoned.

Speaking of that passage from Matthew 25, I learned today — also via Steffan at CT’s blog — that Mitt Romney cites Matthew 25:35-36 as a favorite Bible verse:

He quoted Matthew 25:35-36 in the King James Version, which states, “For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me.”

That’s … unexpected. I’d have guessed Romney’s favorite was something more like 2 Thessalonians 3:10.

For the record, President Barack Obama mentioned Isaiah 40:31, which was always the senior yearbook quote for at least three students every year at my Christian school:

But those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint.

And Obama also cheated by sneaking in a second favorite passage, Psalm 46:

God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble with its tumult.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High.
God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved;
God will help it when the morning dawns.
The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter;
he utters his voice, the earth melts.
The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge.

Come, behold the works of the Lord;
see what desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields with fire.
‘Be still, and know that I am God!
I am exalted among the nations,
I am exalted in the earth.’
The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge.

Selah, Selah, Selah.

"Just to repeat: voters should not need people to excite them to vote like they're ..."

Romans 13 and the Gettysburg Address
"I have long seen automation as a looming issue under capitalism, and one reason I ..."

Romans 13 and the Gettysburg Address
"And the comments! Dominated by some dude who calls himself "White Identity." Look, when your ..."

Romans 13 and the Gettysburg Address

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • “Linquist”, the style of church, and what the pastor says about it being our job to fix things (and so if we don’t we disappoint God, but we can never fix everything, so we’re always disappointing God, to whom we owe everything, I hope you’re proud of yourself), and the insult-without-saying-the-actual-words toward Tom Landers (whoever that is, what kind of name is “Landers” anyway, we should have put a Carlson in charge) all point to this Lutheran-raised atheist as being Lutheran.

    Or as I thought of it when I was about 12, Lutheranism: all the guilt of Catholicism, none of the forgiveness! :-D

  • Abby

    The greatest portion of the money I give to my small city church goes to maintain and repair an aging building and community hall.  The building is used every day by community groups, 12-step groups, etc. which would likely have no comparable place to meet in our city neighborhood.  The church itself and the members actually use the buildings only a few hours a week.  So since my money supports the church itself, but the church supports the community, is that charity or self-interest?

  •  Um. When you are given money in exchange for labor, that is not called charity. It is called “a job”. And when you give money to an organization which will use that money to pay people in exchange for their labor, that is not a charitable contribution. It is an *investment*.

  • Daughter

     That’s a good point, and goes back to posts that Fred has written on occasion on subsidiarity (sp?)–of which Fred’s understanding is very different from Paul Ryan’s. In Ryan’s understanding the church has its sphere and the gov’t its own, and never shall they cross. In Fred’s, if I understand him correctly, the gov’t, nonprofits, faith institutions, civic groups and even businesses work together for the common good.

  • hidden_urchin

    Some ministers are trained in counseling.

    Even then one would probably still be better off going to a mental health professional.  A lot of ministers mean well but their counseling training isn’t exactly heavy on psychology and it’s pretty easy for them to get in way over their heads.  If someone is looking for religious comfort to get through a situational issue then the minister is probably a good person to talk to.  If someone is beginning to have problems with a mental illness but hasn’t been diagnosed yet then a religious figure may accidentally do more harm than good.

  • AnonymousSam

    Frankly, I would rather refer someone to a mental help specialist because I know with almost complete certainty that a psychiatrist isn’t going to shift the burden of guilt onto the person seeking help. With a minister, there’s always that possibility that they’re going to heave a sigh and remind them that when they do this or that, it deeply disappoints Christ…

  • Tricksterson

    They do have their own ethnic religion however which is, simply put, Hinduism filtered through Chritianity, just as Voudoun and Santeria (I almost said Santaria which is of course the worship of Santa Caus) are native African religions filtered through Catholicism,

  • Tricksterson

    “In Ryan’s understanding the church has it’s sphere and the gov’t its own and never shall they cross”

    Except when it comes to abortion and LGBT matters in which case it’s perfectly okay for the bishops to dictate where and what they will.

  • EllieMurasaki

    When you are given money in exchange for labor, that is not called charity. It is called “a job”. And when you give money to an organization which will use that money to pay people in exchange for their labor, that is not a charitable contribution. It is an *investment*.
    While I see where you’re going with that, Habitat for Humanity expects the people it gives houses to to share the labor of building said house, and (if I recall correctly) other Habitat projects in the area. And Planned Parenthood has full-time employees. Are Habitat and PP therefore not charities?

  • Lori

    The fact that PP has paid employees isn’t the equivalent of the Mormons expecting people to work off any aid they’re given. The equivalent would be PP expecting women who use their services and can’t afford to pay in cash to do filing or clean the restrooms or something to work off the cost of their care.

    Habitat is a closer match to the Mormon example, but it’s still a charity because the person getting the house contributes a share of the labor of building the house the going to live in. They do not have to work enough hours on other people’s houses to pay the total cost of their own house. Habitat is endevering to make recipients stake holders. The Mormons expect you to pay back what you receive.

    As someone said earlier, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with mutual aid, it’s just not charity. It’s more like insurance.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Okay, fair.

  • Daughter

     There are plenty of situations in which someone needs advice, guidance, support, etc. (which, for whatever reason, they can’t or don’t want to turn to family or friends for) but they don’t have a diagnosable mental illness. You generally can’t get that from a licensed mental health counselor unless you can pay out of pocket, because most insurance plans won’t cover counseling unless there’s a diagnosis.

    I imagine that a reputable spiritual counseling program teaches its students how to recognize situations in which they need to refer someone to a licensed mental health counselor. And ministers aren’t the only ones who need to be able to make this distinction–it probably applies to school guidance counselors, also.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    I imagine that a reputable spiritual counseling program teaches its students how to recognize situations in which they need to refer someone to a licensed mental health counselor.

    Speaking from experience here–yes. There are formal, recognised qualifications for spiritual directors that include a strong emphasis on their responsibility to provide psychologically appropriate care, which means recognising the between spiritual direction and mental health care and refering people to the latter where necessary.

  • MorganGuyton

    Churches need all the charity we can get. We’ve got important things to buy like subwoofers and LCD screens.

  • Mamajama31

    Duh! It took a study?

  • EllieMurasaki

    It also took a study to show that the diversity of white male TV characters improves the outlook of white male children as their TV-watching hours go up, while the paucity and stereotypedness of TV characters who are female and/or of color disimproves the outlook of female and/or of-color children as their TV-watching hours go up, which social-justice-aware folk in TV fandoms have known for-fucking-ever, so.

  • Expatmom

    This so reminded me of Barbara Bush donating $5million after Katrina but with the stipulation that it had to be used to buy some really lame educational software from her son’s company. People were hungry, thirsty, naked & homeless but, here, have some overpriced cheesy software my son owned! She’s a very special POS in pearls.

  • cristina vallejo

     Thanks be to GOD. Ever since the message of GOD is very lighten my burden. I am proud to be a TheFamilyInternational  member.

  • Levi

    Likewise, this article, didn’t point out its obvious fallacy of assuming that churches don’t give to “secular categories of the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and the imprisoned.”

    Add back into the percentage of donations made by the individuals, the applicable charities that churches provide (even to the “secular categories”, whatever that means) and you’ll find that the Christianity Article and headline are still right and this article is still wrong.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Citation needed.

  • dpolicar

    That’s important, if true.

    Why do you believe it’s true?

  • Fascinating. Could you provide a citation for that?