Quote to Ponder: Is Giving to Charity the Easy Way Out? Shane Claiborne and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove

I would like to invite you to share your thoughts on the following quote.  It has been challenging to me for over a year now!  I understand that pulling anything out of its larger context leaves some gaps.  My hope is that you will not feel a “judgmental” vibe coming through what these New Monastic authors challenge us with, because in the book as a whole it comes across full of grace.  Now, to the Quote to Ponder…

“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 or that all giving is a result of guilt…)

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

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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  • James

    Certain charities allow us to extend our resources beyond our own sphere of influence. I might be very capable of volunteering at a homeless overflow shelter in my home town, but visiting an orphanage in China or Africa is well beyond my reach.

    And, while I believe that all humans deserve care and compassion, I do feel that certain individuals allow themselves to fall into their circumstances. From a financial standpoint, I feel better about giving to feed a child over giving to buy cigarettes or beer to the man on the street.

  • The thing is, it’s really difficult to get to know and give to those less well off than you.

    First you have to introduce yourself basically as someone with more money than them. Then you have to humiliate them by offering money suggesting that they can’t cope.

    OK I’m being a bit facetious here, but let’s not make this a choice between child sponsorship in Haiti or giving to a street beggar.

    Try starting in your own church – who in your congregation is having trouble paying a bill this month? Then get everyone else to donate money, time and resources. This is mandated in Acts 2 and 5, and is much easier than the extreme example given above because it’s done out of love and relationship.

    I read this book a few months ago and it’s brilliant.

    Grace and peace,


  • Terri-Anne Williams

    I believe that many Christians give to charities because it is easier, and much cleaner than getting to know those people in our own areas who so desperately need the love of Christ. I do not have a problem with charities per se, but I think that we need to remember that people within our own communities need help ~ not just people in third world countries. I am not at all saying that we should not help those in other countries, but it should not be our only focus. I realize that people have a hard time giving to those they feel do not deserve it, but who does deserve it? How do we make that distinction? And if I am called by Christ to give a dollar or two to someone on the street ~ is it my business to decide how they choose to spend it? I have done my part ~ now it is between them and God.

    Every year I work alongside my son, Pete, in the National Homeless Census. We have found this a great opportunity to be Christ to others ~ and what a truly humbling experience it is! We have a questionnaire that needs filled out that has the basic questions regarding who they are, where they come from, what are their stumbling blocks to getting housing. We have $5 grocery cards that we give to them for participation in our survey which then helps us get funding for our community to then help those homeless in our community. the best part about it is getting to know them. This past January we met a man who had his Doctorate in Physics. He said with giant tears in his eyes, “One day I walked outside and the sky was grey ~ literally grey. I went to the Doctor and got on antidepressants which made it worse and I tried to take my own life. I realized after that failed attempt that I just could not deal with the stressors of life anymore. I didn’t see where it was getting me other than to the worst day of my life. I walked away and never looked back. Now when I look at the sky it is blue ~ the deepest, prettiest shade of blue I have ever seen. I will never go back.” Pete and I were speechless, with great big knots in our throats and tears in our eyes we gave our new friend a big hug and wished him well.

    We also met a woman just as sweet as could be, but reeked of alcohol. She was so excited to meet us. She told us that she had been clean & sober for 3 years and in August of 2009 she went to a friends house and got drunk and has been drunk ever since. She had tears in her eyes and asked if we thought she was going to hell. She said she knew it was wrong, but wasn’t sure if she was strong enough to stop. She was hopeful that today would be the day that she would turn her life around and asked me to pray for her. We prayed with her and gave her a big hug. She said she has not been hugged since last August when she left her Mother’s home. I pray every day that she will find her way in this world. She was absolutely beautiful ~ she was created by the same God who created me!

    I don’t have a lot of money, I work in Social Services and my Husband is in Construction. We have four children ~ one beginning college (Yeah Pete!), a 12 yr old girl beginning Jr. High (please pray for me!), a 6 yr old girl beginning 1st grade and a 4 yr old girl in pre-K. This economy has greatly hurt us, but money isn’t the only thing the Lord gave me to give. There are numerous examples of the Lord giving to others that do not require money. I do not think that I need money to be Christ to others.

  • Terri-Anne’s comment is very moving and, I believe, pretty well at the heart of what we’re discussing. “she was created by the same God who created me!” sums it up. We are the same. The human condition is common to us all and if we see the poor as different we cannot connect with any sincerity.

    The writer to the Hebrews writes ‘Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow-prisoners and those who are ill-treated as as if you yourselves were suffering.’ He doesn’t say ‘remember them because they are worse off than you’. We all are poor and wretched before God and in dire need of his grace and mercy and if we can see others as ourselves but in different circumstances we will truly say ‘there but for the grace of God’.

    Its no wonder that those who receive charity can be angry at their benefactors if they are made to feel inferior. What made Jesus different from the religious leaders was that he wept with the people, ate their meals, touched their wounds and though he was perfect he despised no-one. Those he felt had brought their misery on themselves (like the woman caught in adultery) he reassured, affirmed and then admonished.

    You cannot read the Gospels without concluding that it is the rich who are poor. The poor must have riches that the rich cannot possess unless they give away their wealth. Maybe we should consider our giving more a swap shop than a charity. I would like to pray for you Terri-Anne ‘that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of of his glorious inheritance in the saints’.


  • MarinePatriot

    While I have no issues with the comments so far, I agree we need to help those less fortunate in our larger sphere of influence (the impoverished in our community), however God has placed us in a smaller, more particular sphere of influence in which we should hold a greater concern. If we ignore our brother next door for our brother across town, what kind of Christian are we?

    Just throwing a burger at an alleged homeless person on the street is less meaningful than building a relationship with others around you and even others in your greater sphere in your community. There are those who preach that the church has been ignoring the impoverished and down-trodden for years. Don’t buy it. These people have experiences that are non-biblical and are trying to right their own ship without letting God work through them. I think God wants you to experience Him daily where you are at and share that with others around you. Jesus didn’t ask us to solve poverty. I personally guarantee we will never solve it. He asked us to give but, more importantly, to make disciples of all men, as that is better than any bread…

    1. Only the internet generation would believe there is a global Christian community. We are all a part of the body of Christ but it is impossible for us to be a global community and really truly be able to understand our brothers in other cities in our country, even less others on different continents. That does not excuse us from sending missionaries and humanitarian aid personally or through others to the rest of the world.

    2. Why is it difficult for the poor to understand the problems of the rich? We were all born in different circumstances. We have to make relationships to bridge the gaps between people, not people groups. If we continue to try to help people groups in circumstances that we believe are worse than ours, we are treating them as sub-human. Get to know people before serving them.

    3. Yes. But is Shane Claiborne living guilt-free today?

    4. “But we live in difficult days.” Should I cry here? There are always difficult times. Get up and know your neighbor. Stop making excuses. God is to protect us.

    “…children of god…” I certainly hope that you made this typo and did not cut and paste it directly from the source…

  • Interesting post, and a difficult question. I personally feel that mere giving is indeed a bare minimum and, all told, an insufficient response to the grace we have been given at the cost of Jesus’ grueling condescension.

    You already know where I stand on the issue of how to provide for the poor. Even if you don’t agree with me that forced redistribution is to be avoided, surely you’ll agree that such compulsory “social justice” programs are no more useful in and of themselves than voluntary charity, and typically require less conscious sacrifice. What’s worse, they tend to act as inoculation against more costly giving: “I do give! Through my taxes. Hope it goes to the right places.” 🙂

    Anyway, my main point is to agree that we all need to reexamine our philosophy about how to really meet needs; writing a check simply isn’t going to do it. A couple years ago I wrote a post called Putting our money where their mouths are, which muses about a more ambitious way of dealing with needs in Africa. Oh, it’s rather radical and idealistic to be sure, but I think it’s clear that it’s going to take more radical and ideal strategies to deal with the needs in our world.

    Thanks for asking the question, my friend.

    • MarinePatriot

      Interesting post, Steve. I try to avoid corporate solutions to any problem as much as I possibly can. I’m not as adverse to my local church body doing some things corporately to try to help where we can. But the more there is a corporate solution to a problem, be it the government, “Social Justice”, or even a well-meaning group of Christians, power rules the solution and corruption will take place. The smaller the group, the better the effect and the more relational help takes place. My opinion really doesn’t doesn’t help you with Malawi, but it is the best “I” can give you, brother. 😉

      • Thanks for your thoughts, MarinePatriot.

        I fully agree that mass-coordination efforts are typically fraught with power struggles, etc. But if I might redeem my old proposal a little, I would say that such efforts could work if they eschewed power structures and focused on voluntary coordination of efforts. A relatively small group of people could conceivably enlist the help of and garner funding for various specialized organizations in a way that would require no “supervision” per se, and therefore no true “power” to fight over. If Aid Organization A, B, and C were already going to engage in their projects anyway, a helpful nudge from someone who’s looked at the situation on the ground might prompt them to steer their efforts in a more useful way than they would have otherwise. Difference of vision/strategy that resulted in splits in the planning body would not really harm much, as aid would still arise from independent efforts that would still be more strategic than aid efforts are right now.

        Anyway, it’s a thought. And it’d sure be worth more of a shot than sending hundreds of millions of dollars of aid to corrupt governments!

        • MarinePatriot

          I applaud your concepts, Steve. If we could get robots without egos to implement this, it might be flawless. 🙂

          But, again, a very nice idea!

  • I find it a little strange that social justice is regarded as negative. In the UK we have a welfare state that provides health care to everyone at source so that treatment is given according to need. Children, the elderly and those on low income don’t have to pay for dental teatment or drugs, everyone with a child, regardless of their income receives child support and, in theory, no one should live in abject poverty. It comes at a price but while it has many faults there aren’t many that object to it in principle.

    I do feel that we have a sense of a just society and while we are obliged to pay taxes and National Insurance, announcements from Government that more will be spent on the Hational Health System and education are almost universally applauded. And we all know that if we are down on our luck there is a safety net.

    By nature we are selfish and would rather not be told how to use our income so a compulsory system has its benefits. And because it is compulsory there is little sense of sacrifice. I am even happy that my government gives some of my money as foreign aid. I’m not happy that it goes to currupt government officials but that’s another issue.

    What I personally would like to see is, rather than having governemnt bodies administer aid, for government to collect the taxes and redistribute it via community groups that understand the need rather than agencies that simply follow rules. At the moment we don’t have to be in need to get support, we simply have to tick the right boxes.

    • MarinePatriot

      Hey Chris!

      “Social Justice” is not the same as “Socialism”. Social Justice is a much larger and more vague concept, used in an attempt to level the playing field for any number of different social circumstances. Unfortunately, it can be used by lawyers to lessen the time that a convict spends in prison based solely on the criminal’s birth environment. The concept is beautiful but the implementation goes beyond flawed. Without clear definition and the fact that broad-stroked justice for groups of people instead of individuals alone is dangerous, it breeds more contempt for groups rather than bridging the gaps between them.

      Socialism has its own problems as the money tends to line more government pockets than actual people who need it. I’m not sure what the numbers are exactly for our welfare system but I understand that at one time 25% of the money actually arrived at the source of need. The other major issue is not the “safety net” but those who live in the safety net. Lack of motivation can be dangerous to the under-pinning of the whole system. Eventually the money will run dry up and crush the economy that is feeding it. Again, a nice idea, but making decisions corporately for personal problems erodes the emotional attachment and joy in solving issues while building relationships with others. Even if they don’t look or act like us, we still have the ability and desire to help. 🙂

  • Ray Sanchez

    I was the product of poverty as a child. Growing up poor, was humility daily. it’s exactly what christ describes when he’s say’s humble your self. You can never understand what is feel’s like unless you have been in that circumstance.from personal experience, i hate the feeling.I think it makes you feel like a second class citizen. Growing up in the getto you start feeling resentment toward everyone around you. There are bullies around you, taking the very little you got. Drunks, drug dealers, and everyone else you can imagine. it’s hard to keep your hope up, when you keep getting knocked down. Mental illness is so common with a addicition to boot, and this is in my own family. if you have no father to help you be a man, and your mother suffers from mental illness, a broke kid is a burden. Goverment programs degrade a human such as welfare, foodstamps, storehouses, food banks. The people who work there are cold as snow. People like Shane help people feel human again, like jesus was in the street. he knew what it was like to be humble, poor, walking on the “not so safe side of life”.The lord convictied me some how, because i was blessed by our creator, left the getto by the grace of god, and started being like everyone else that gave with out personal, connection. now it seems like i need them like i need air, i wanted so bad to get out, and the lord has other plans. giving to the church is good but giving your all is thuly the blessing of the lord. you will not get along with everyone, but you can build a bond of brotherhood as described in the bible.Peace to his people on earth.

  • Shane’s a good guy, but he’s not married with kids so he can go and hang out with the homeless or even live with them. The rest of us need to find more realistic ways of helping which don’t involve sacrificing our families. I think it’s a great and proper thing to do to give all up and serve the poor but some of us just can’t justify that. So we should do what we can and support agencies which help people and establish justice. People like IJM which free slaves or Children International, Unicef and World Vision which save children from poverty.

    If you sponsor a child through Children International it’s not anonymous. You have contact to your child and can even visit them. I really think if we tithe to such agencies instead of rich local churches we are doing proper God-service and saving people in accordance with our commission.

    • Hi Marc,

      Maybe it’s not a choice of hanging out with homeless dudes OR hanging out with your family – maybe your family should be with you when you hang out with poor folks?

      Grace and peace,


  • Terri-Anne Williams

    I disagree that if you have a family you can not go hang out with the homeless ~ I have four children and I do. I want my children to grow up knowing that there isn’t any difference between us. The Lord loves us all. My son works the Homeless Census with me, my girls have shared their food with people on the street. As a family we can go to our community Thanksgiving & Christmas dinners and serve the people there. It is a great opportunity and my children have grown so much. It isn’t a sacrifice ~ you get a lot out of serving others. I think it is very realistic to expect our children to learn to serve and not just receive. I want my children to know that they do not need to wait for someone else to do something. If they see a need and they can fill it, I want them to do it.

    • I instinctively agree with you Terri-Anne. I know its harder to simply do the right thing when you are married because you have your family to consider. A single person has much less to lose and can even be irresponsible because the consequences are often less dire. But I can’t say I have an excuse not to do something because its hard or complicated.

      Its a hard one but you appear to have answered the question. Principles are easy and often simple but actions are hard and often complicated. That’s the way of things.

  • My family and I help with our church during the winter when they open up the community hall during the rain. We usually feed 25-40 homeless and hungry. What I have consistently found is that the food can probably be found in a lot of places. But the moment I sit down and eat with them, everything changes. It’s now something more than a meal.

    And to be honest, I have found that I probably get more out of the meal than they do. I find that when I sit and intentional find God in each one of these people, I am enriched. I get to see them smile in ways that they don’t usually smile.

    My kids always like going too. They end up talk with someone and helping out, which gets them out of their little world.

  • I’ve never really been a hands on person but rather than getting any statisfaction from giving financially I’ve always found it frustrating. Having been moved to give I generally feel deflated thinking how small a splash I’m making in a sea of suffering. Those thingy-athons counter that by creating an atmosphere of togetherness but they also celebrate celebrity which turns me off. Organisations like World Vision have an excellent model. Not only do they involve the giver by connecting with a real person and community but they separate giving to the mission and supporting the executives so whatever the CEO gets is quite irrelevant.

    I was constrained to find alternative employent this year and got a job as a carer. Its only minimum wage so there is a high turnover of staff. I left 2 weeks ago and talked with the manager. She said that one of the reasons people left was because they expected to be cleaning and preparing meals but didn’t like the personal care. On the contrary, I found the more unpleasant tasks more satisfying and that would have been a reason to stay. There is something about treating someone with dignity and respect when what you have done is unpleasant or apparently demeaning.

    I don’t know if I have made any significant difference in the lives of those I cared for. I certainly wasn’t indispensible and I did it for pay (as little as it was). But it has had a dramatic impact on me. I feel more fulfilled and more able to give.

  • After reading…it’s really hard to love people.
    Having access to money and credit when so many of my friends don’t have
    either money or access to credit puts a power imbalance there.
    Homeless people and poor people are pretty aware of the imbalance and
    acutely aware of what they need and all sorts of issues come into play
    on that angle. But for those who have money and credit it’s also a
    trap. It’s REALLY hard for people to avoid the trap of feeling better
    or superior to others and hard to avoid using power to achieve your own
    aims. LOVE and persistance and as one of my friends says…continuing
    to show up and continuing to show up…and continuing to show up…and
    love make the difference. I can pretty much guarantee that where
    ever it is that you live that there are people that are really
    struggling and homeless. You might have to reach out a bit to connect
    but it is worth it.

    There are some great resources out there about homelessness in America. One of the best is invisiblepeople.tv done by Mark Horvath. Also there is project 50/50, union rescue mission. For children and believe me there are alot of children out there that are homeless…covenant. There is a huge need for family shelters and more outreach especially now.

  • I am a Christian. I do help the needy and poor people around me. Everyone has a right to live happy. We should do help people by different ways like giving our old clothes,shoes,books to needy one.  We should understand that all human beings are equal….
    nonprofit organization