Quote to Ponder: Is Giving to Charity the Easy Way Out? Shane Claiborne

“Throughout the history of the church, Christians have recognized that we cannot pray ‘Our father’ together on Sunday and deny bread to our brothers and sisters on Monday. But we live in difficult days. The hungry are not just hungry. Often they are our enemies. Drug addiction and mental illness make many who are hungry hard to deal with. They threaten us. Others have been hungry for so long that they are angry, even at those of us who want to help. We worry about how to protect ourselves from them while at the same time feeling guilty for our complicity in their poverty. So we give to charities. And charities become the brokers for our compassion toward the poor. The problem with this is that we never get to know the poor. Though we have been made children of god together with them in Jesus Christ, we never sit down to eat with our hungry brothers and sisters… Many Christians are concerned about the breakdown of nuclear families (and rightly so), but we often just accept the breakdown of God’s family.” (Becoming the Answers to Our Prayers: Prayer for Ordinary Radicals; Shane Claiborne and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, 39)

1. What are you thoughts on the breakdown of the global Christian family?

2. Why is it so difficult for financially stable Christians to get to know the poor?

3. Is charity something that financially stable Christians use sometimes to alleviate guilt, while finding the easy way out? (The intention of the above quote or this question is not to state that anyone needs to stop giving financially to justice organizations)

4. What other thoughts on the above quotation do you have to offer?

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  • Great questions, here, Kurt! I strongly suspect that the only really good answers come from wrestling with the questions in community. While I respect Claiborne’s candor in calling out the all-too-comfortable church, I think we still need to recognize that a lot of the good things that “charity” organizations do, is only gonna get the funding it needs if somebody still makes more than their own subsistence income and gives a chunk of it to those “charities.” This matters to me personally as I have served in international settings in the past, and if everybody in the church lived Shane’s monastic life, there wouldn’t have been anyone with the funds to send me halfway around the world to work in Africa.

    Does one obviate the need for the other? Obviously not. We desperately need to find ways to be involved with the poor & suffering closer to home. But I also recognize the cry of those who’re just trying to get by, and don’t get out of their home/work/kids school cycle enough to do much else. This is where I believe the church could/should be a LOT more creative in enabling “ordinary folks” to engage in local, hurting communities. If we did more to support each other in ministry (and that could include watching somebody’s young children while that somebody goes to work at a soup kitchen or a homeless enclave, for instance), a lot more ministry could get done.

    Sometimes I think Shane forgets that the monasticism he and his fellow “simple way” folks live–however admirable it is–gets a lot harder when people get married & have kids. I wish he’d be as creative in engaging families into ministry, as he is with the young single crowd. . .I’ll be honest, as much as I see Jesus’ commands to reach out to the poor, I’m really reluctant to invite them into my house where my wife & kids sleep. Is this a failure of imagination? Maybe. Failure of faith? Maybe that too. Have I got any good ideas how to address it? Not yet. . .

    • Dan, good comments. I am short on time, but let me chime in briefly.
      1. I agree with your assessments of charity and our need to support them. Shane would not disagree, he simply is trying to get us thinking on how writing a check does not break down the walls of separation.
      2. I agree with your second paragraph in its entirety!
      3. I asked Shane about how families integrate in manastic community… and he said that families do live in homes at the simple way as ‘relocaters’. i do have to agree with the concern about protection of family. I think we address these situations as they come up under the guidance of the Spirit!

      So much more to say…. got to go!

  • While I appreciate Claiborne’s prophetic call to the church to take Jesus at His word when He says to take care of the poor (I’ve read his Irresistable Revolution and found it uncomfortably true) my main point of contention with him is this: He seems to want to be very generous with other people’s money. I think I might respond more positively to his call to give to the poor more if he actually held down a job, earned his own money, and did what he’s asking the church to do, and then called us to follow his example. I respect people more if they ask us to do what they do, not just do as they say. Sort of like Bono telling the church to get involved in Africa missions without his being a part of the church himself to know exactly what the church has been up to all these years. That being said, I agree with him that often the church hires out their ministry through charities so that they don’t get their hands dirty. God doesn’t call all believers to a monastic lifestyle, but He does call all believers to a compassionate, sacrificial, other-centered lifestyle.

    • Deanna, I wouldn’t be too quick to judge Shane. He (as far as I know) basically gives away everything he has. His community even has rules in place about how much money you are to live on each month etc. And he has a job: he is an author, speaker, ministry leader, and activist. He lives on almost nothing. He is not a guy who makes money and then keeps it… from what i can tell he walks his talk. I remember when he spoke at youth specialties in 06. He called us to begin to take small steps towards making a difference. He took the $3000 (or so) that he was paid to speak, and broke it into 1 dollar bills and wrote “love” on each dollar. He called us to take a dollar and to see how God could use it to multiply his kingdom purpose of justice on the earth. That to me speaks volumes about his heart!

      As far as Bono… I think he has a great heart and has done some great things for causes. And even though he has not been as involved in a local church as we may think he ought, he has been mostly right to call the church to do more. Yes, organizations have been fighting aids and poverty for years, but voices like Bono’s have awakened a lot of people to do more… for this we are in debt to him as followers of Jesus. I would agree that i find myself wondering about his own lifestyle. If he cares so much then why all the fancy clothing and cars, etc.? That i would say is valid, but is also between him and God.

      Finally, you are right to say that God doesnt call all of us to the monastic life. But he calls all of us to “a compassionate, sacrificial, other-centered lifestyle.” You nailed it with that last line of your comment!!!!!!!

      • Thanks for your very thoughtful response…I love a good dialogue. I agree with your defenses of Claiborne and Bono. I didn’t mean to sound as if I don’t value their contributions as prophets. I agree both have been very effective in calling the church to reclaim her responsibility to care for the needy and poor and to love them more than our stuff. And anyone who evokes such an emotional response from people obviously has touched a nerve.

  • Challenging post Kurt,

    Too often I think Shane is right that “charities become the brokers for our compassion toward the poor”. It is much easier to write a check for many people than to get involved. There are many ‘charities’ that are doing amazing things and are worth our support of course, I’m not slamming charities, but I think they should be seen as just one part of the process rather than the main focus. I think there is a lack of engagement with actually needy people in the church.

    However, I don’t fault the individuals all that much for this. I more fault the church, I mean for the vast majority of my life I know for a fact that if I had expressed a desire to become more engaged in caring for the poor the churches I was attending would have no way to enact that. While many churches are good hearted and generous, many are also very secluded to the safe bubble of the church and church people, and have little or no contact with the people who need their help most. If the church says ‘care for the poor’ and then provides no way for people to do so who is responsible for the lack of engagement?

    This is one thing I’ve really appreciated about Mars Hill, they are very intentional about getting people involved ‘on the ground’ in things like encouraging people to move to particularly impoverished areas of town in order to invest their time, money, and lives into bringing light to the neighborhoods from within.

  • love the conversation, a couple thoughts…

    first the idea of giving money to charity is a biblical concept. The Jewish people would of course tithe to the temple but on top of that they would participate in alms giving which I believe is what Jesus meant when He spoke of “don’t let your left hand know what the right is doing”. The idea is linked back to the concept of Tzedekah or “righteous acts”.

    and second, when God spoke over us at creation and gave us His image, the word for image originally had the notion of “Shadow”. As in, if you see the shadow of a tree you think to yourself “Hey, a tree!” Although it is not a tree, it makes us think tree. So when we are seen or our actions are seen by others, they should think of God. (these are thoughts i’m learning from Jeff Benner at ancient-hebrew.org)

    The two, both giving to charity and living out the character of God, is not only helpful to bringing wholeness to the global christian family, it is absolutely necessary.

    another great post, thanks.

  • An interesting discussion going on here. I don’t know if I agree with the assumption that financially stable Christians don’t “get to know the poor.” That hasn’t been my experience — and I would consider myself financially stable, and certianly “rich” by global standards. But do I do enough? No. Yet, our family — along with our two kids — make a pretty concerted effort to serve the poor VERY directly, beyond just mailing in a check to those in need.

    Great, great discussion though. Love your blog.

    • Jennifer (DukesLee), I would want to make clear that by no means is Shane Claiborne or myself arguing that all financially stable Christians neglect getting to ‘know the poor.’ Nevertheless, many of us have struggled to take this extra step towards finding ourselves unified as common sisters and brothers in Christ in practice, rather than merely theory. We Christians need to get better at tearing down the walls that often separate and segregate God’s people; who in Christ, no favoritism exists! I am glad that you are raising your kids outside of themselves so that they can know the “others” of this world!

      Thanks for coming by and please join the conversation here again!!!!

  • Shelly

    Honestly, the reason I don’t personally get involved more with the “poor” is because it is uncomfortable. Just being real here. Expecting my first child, being the only income provider at the moment, and so on, has really made me realise that it could easily by MYSELF in the shoes of any of the “poor”. I think that a lot of people don’t want to hear the stories of these people’s lives because it then becomes too real. Any of us could be there, and it doesn’t take much. It isn’t that we don’t want to help. It is just emotionally very challenging! It is being confronted with my own emotions that makes me feel awkward and guilty. I do not feel that gratification of a “do gooder”. Not to mention the fact that, if we are talking about homeless people, statistics often show that many of these people have mental disorders and addictions. To me, the mental disorders and disruptive behavior from the addictions can be very hard to combat armed only with love. Many of us don’t come from informed backgrounds equipped to understand what is happening in the minds and hearts of those we really do want to minister to. Not that God does not overcome these issues. HE DOES. But I think it us us choosing to be humble, and push the boundaries of our comfort zones once again, and go where God is calling. And so many times, I wonder, is this monitary gift/dinner/clothing/etc even really helping? Especially when I see the same bums on the same street corners and start to see what some of their real troubles are. It is easier to give money to other people and let them worry about it! That being said. I love full time ministry. 🙂 Challenges included! AND I love the ability to give a bit financially when at the moment God has me in a place where I am giving everything else to my family. Sometimes, because of life, you just CAN’T do much more! However, I see many people who are poor in other ways, and I do what I can when I can.

    • Shelly, I admire your honesty.

  • Deep down in the heart of Christ, isn’t that really what He could see? He knew the lack of empathy between the wealthy and poor classes. Empathy is key to true compassion. I think that’s where we get caught up in the ‘giving out of guilt’ pattern. I agree, giving is good and for whatever reason you are doing it it will be blessed but the giver is missing so much of the experience by not bringing him/herself ‘down’ to the level of those who are in dire need of recieving. Needing help (to most of us) is humiliating, strips us of our dignity, and probably on the top 3 list of where we never want to be. Those who have been there I imagine are the most compassionate and generous contributors to causes. How many ‘rags to riches’ stories have we heard where rock stars or athletes contribute colleges, Boys and Girls clubs, volunteer time to their old neighborhoods? It’s an awesome thing!

  • i think it can be both a copout, as well as a good thing. It just depends on the heart, per usual. In the end, that’s kind of all that matters, right?

    Thanks for stopping by, btw. Look forward to having you contribute to some discussions.

  • Great conversations happening here! Thanks for you input! I must say that I agree with Crystal in saying that Shelly was refreshingly honest! Jason, I am with you on the tension between charities being copouts or truly for good. We MUST support charities that are fighting for justice in our world, but never as something that we can now check off our good deeds to-do-list. We must also look for opportunities to tear down any walls that divide us.

  • Jack

    Why don’t we get involved?
    B/C its always harder than anticipated. We think that a meal, or a one-time service project with our small group will solve something substantial. Almost 100% of the time, it’s a drop in the bucket. Someone was blaming the church for not creating opportunities. Problem is, if we were serious about addressing these critical needs, who signs up for a seemingly never-ending task that that involves a combination of complicated issues. Our church struggles to find someone to pass the offering plate for 3 months.

    About 5 months ago we joined with World Relief (good charity) to help sponsor a refugee. Others from our church had tried it before as a small group but were frustrated b/c it was messy and not a good small group activity. The landlord didn’t show up with the key one time, some people were scared to go into the city, etc. They set up the apt but that was it. But we were going to be different. We befriended this widow and daughter, inviting her into our lives and home. We spent hundreds of dollars (thousand?), hundreds of hours trying to help her get adjusted to America, find a job, meet people, taking her to church, etc. – just trying to be Jesus to her. She has been refusing job offers we felt she should take, not being as diligent and responsible as we encouraged and is facing getting thrown out of her apt. Would Jesus allow this widow and daughter to become homeless while we eat steak and drive our cars? But it’s not that easy, is it? Paying this months rent would help her learn to be self-sufficient. Further, last week we had a direct talk to her about her circumstances and now we’ve been shunned. All this giving and WE are the bad guy?

    Write a check? Heck yeah. Good to do. Necessary. But totally way easier.

    But a check is not enough. Here’s 3 reasons why it’s important for me to get involved PERSONALLY.

    1. The “least, last and lost” need to rub shoulders with you and me. I think sometimes we wonder why the rest of the world can’t be more like us: we don’t live in debt, don’t have 5 different “baby-mammas”, are responsible, etc. BUT we intentionally isolate ourselves from those very people who need to be influenced by us…. not just in formal social worker setting, but as neighbors, friends, etc. I volunteer at the jail and the men there have almost zero examples in their daily lives of Godly husbands, fathers, etc.
    2. I need to change. I say I go by the jail 50% to help the inmates and 50% to be challenged by them. Walk a mile in the shoes of the least, last and lost and you’ll start to understand the real difficulties they face. Suddenly some of the standard mantras I chant don’t seem to make as much sense. You start to have… (oh no) empathy.
    3. Social programs/ministries tend to have people who are better skilled at dealing with addictions and other severe issues – but are not the complete solution. They are often overwhelmed by the need and often get involved after a lot of the problems have taken root. Many times, the least, last and lost need a friend and advocate – someone to observe, model and encourage them. I see the Believers in an indirect partnership with charities.

    I live in Chicago – 6 million people. I figure there are likely a million Believing families. What if each family took interest in one refugee, poor person, prisoner, someone in a broken family? This city would be transformed. The country and world would suddenly notice and inspired. It would be awesome and Christ would be glorified!!!

    But next year I need to decide where to send my kids to school and our Chicago Public School option blows – we’ve even considered moving to the suburbs to the good schools. I got all the reasons to get involved personally, but in practice, I struggle at pulling the trigger. It’s just plain hard.