Overthinking Charity & Poverty (and Then Selling It to The Church)

So.. I suddenly am made aware, Sunday, that a new 6-week video course is being offered to our church members on Wednesday nights that intends to make us “Reimagine Charity”.  We watched a short promo video in the assembly in which, sure enough, the concern is raised whether our alms giving is “effective” or not.  A new catch phrase I hear in it says: Stop Meeting Needs; Start Seeking Shalom.  Another says: The opposite of poverty is not wealth; it’s shalom.  These slogans will suffice for this post.

I quickly found out that in order to participate in this Wednesday night class, I will need to pay a $25 fee.  Apparently that is the rate for an individual as it is divided up at my church.  If I take it on my own, on line, I will pay $129.  Thus, the information about the program is limited.  I tried to research it for myself, but I cannot find a straightforward overview or review of it which reveals the gist of its pertinent content for free.

But I did find that, among all the contributors who developed the program, our old friends Corbett and Fikkert are back.  These are the guys who brought us the book When Helping Hurts.  For those few readers who follow this blog, you surely know I have little respect for that book, and I deal with the damage it has done to the church in my town every day for most of the last decade.

TO BE FAIR, I have not read, watched, or participated in the Seeking Shalom/Reimagine Charity program.

THEREFORE, I am not qualified to be a true critic of it.

BUT, I already have my suspicions.

I am troubled that there seems to be yet another, shiny/new book and/or program that calls into question our giving, which is the natural thing for a heart grateful to Jesus to do.  Yes, I said “yet another”.  This is more of the same old, same old dressed up in new clothes.  Yes, I have heard before about undergirding theological concepts making us think deeper than we did before.  (I am not against that part actually.)  Yes, I have heard that so much of our “help” turns out to be “enabling” the problem rather than fixing it.  Yes, I have heard that such “help” makes people dependent and causes them to lose their dignity.  Yes, I recall being warned about getting a “savior complex”.  And yes, I have heard about “biblical principles” that we need to guide us as we finally get it right this time.

So, yeah… This isn’t actually new.  It sounds new.  Feels new.  Looks new.  But actually, it’s the same old pig in different lipstick.  And if it didn’t work last time (after all, When Helping Hurts was published in the summer of 2009), what makes you think it’s going to finally work this time???

Didn’t Jesus say:  “You will always have the poor with you…”?

Yeah, I know the context of his observation doesn’t settle all questions, but nevertheless, it is a bell you can’t un-ring.  He did say it.  So what makes you think you will finally end poverty?  Or outsmart Jesus?

My first reaction is very cynical.  I am troubled that I am spending $25 for a Bible class at church.  Shouldn’t all the classes be free?  And when it comes to a class about charity, why am I paying money to the program that could have been given to the poor?  (Oh… Now you think I am misusing the context of Jesus’s statement?)  Yeah, this money could have been used to anoint Jesus for burial or for the poor, but instead it is being used to enable Corbett and Fikkert and friends to cause me to question and second-guess my alms giving!  And I will stop short of saying these guys have got rich off it, but they have made a career out of it over the past decade!

Secondly, I note that NOWHERE in the Bible is there even a sermon, a poem, and prophecy, an epistle, or a prayer outlining the dangers of giving – or of the ineffectiveness of giving unwisely.  No warnings about doing it wrong anywhere in there.  All these theologies and biblical principles have to be carefully stitched together with your fears in order for it to sell.  And I gotta say, SELLING the idea that there is something wrong with giving (or with the manner of giving) to the poor is a rich person’s game.  Only the rich could dream that up!  And what does Jesus say about rich people getting into the Kingdom of God???  He says it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle!!!   So this whole idea likely does NOT originate from the Kingdom of God at all.

Yeah, and we live in conservative, Republican country.  What little bit of us is left over, Jesus can have, but our hearts and minds belong to Fox News and tax breaks.  We subtly equate being healthy and whole with being rich and independent.  Those are American ideals, not biblical ideals.  I can show you prophecies, poems, sermons, and so forth all through the Bible that warn, shun, and judge the rich for not giving and caring for the poor.  But I can’t find a single morsel of a biblical principle that says when I give to the poor, I should be wary that it might backfire.

So, yeah.  I am suspicious.  But I will go (as often as I can) to give this program a chance.  I will fork up the $25 to get my chance to participate.  And, I will even hope I am mistaken about my suspicions.  I would like to be pleasantly surprised!  But I will also go expecting to be the lone voice for Jesus in a program of selling out the poor for a pair of sandals.  The more hifalutin “theology” and “biblical principles” all worked out by redefinitions of poverty and shalom and other word games the thicker the fog in which this kind of stuff gets justified.  And then it is quite easy to SELL all this overthinking to people who are willing to part with their money for anything as long as it doesn’t wind up in the hands of the poor who would use it for something we might not like.

Yeah… “Stop meeting needs; start seeking shalom”.  That sounds just like the Jesus I read about in my Gospels.  Find the page where he feeds the 5000 and tear it out!  Never happened.  Not really.  No, no, no…  What St. Matthew meant to write was that he charged $25 and preached a sermon saying: Feed a man a fish, and you feed him for a day.  Teach a man to fish, and you make him into a stable, independent American worthy of God’s love and Jesus’s admiration.

Yeah… That’s it…

15 comments

  1. erdman31 · January 29, 2018

    “Give to the one who asks you.” ~ Jesus

    To my mind, one of Jesus’ central teachings was renunciation. The point of Jesus telling the rich young ruler to sell all was so that the rich young ruler could truly “follow” without being pulled by wealth and compromised with a preoccupation with money.

    In America, today, Christians have more wealth than at anytime in the history of Christianity. Yet what do we hear? Consternation about how people will become dependent. The poor might be polluted by giving them money, so it’s best to hoard it. The irony seems to be lost on such Christians.

    “You cannot serve both God and money.” And so I tend to feel empathy for Christians who so clearly prioritize money over the work of the kingdom. They are missing out on the essence of the life that Jesus lived. Renunciation was meant to liberate the individual soul and be a catalyst for deconstructing the worldly power structure. Christians who prefer to align with the empire rather than to live the liberating life of renunciation are missing the deepest joy of the life of the Spirit.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Agent X · January 29, 2018

      Thanx for responding. Very thoughtful. I really expect more raw and visceral reaction from my left-leaning friends, but here you are very thoughtful and even handed. I appreciate that, really. I think it lends weight.

      X

      Liked by 1 person

      • erdman31 · January 29, 2018

        Like most leftists, I go through cycles. Confronted with the violent abuses of the weak by the strong, it’s impossible not to be overwhelmed and at times very angry. Many of my activist heros felt this way, Jesus being the prime example; but somehow we have to remain grounded, which is one of the reasons that the teachings of Jesus still resonate, even for the non-churched, irreligious.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. clashofcashntrash · January 29, 2018

    Oh boy. Here we go again.

    I should come to your church, tell them I want to take the class, but I can’t afford it.

    Do you think they would do the charitable thing and pay my way for me to learn about how you shouldn’t pay people’s way for them???

    I just hate for you to be the lone voice.

    With you in spirit brother.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. erdman31 · January 29, 2018

    I’m happy to provide some form of (un)corporate sponsorship. On behalf of my blog — call me Agent Left — I would gladly sponsor up to four participants.

    Like

  4. Agent X · January 29, 2018

    This comment sent in from deep cover agent:

    On a different note — Why do few who desire to live as prophets — choose the lifestyle of Hosea or the confrontational style of Nathan with King David?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Agent X · January 29, 2018

      I cannot speak for all the few or all the many.

      I will say that as I look at Jesus, and pray that I might be like him, I find him in confrontation after confrontation. Hardly a passage where he isn’t taking on someone. And that too is a prophetic tradition of many in the old Testament.

      Like

      • Agent X · January 29, 2018

        Oh… yeah… and I wonder what the value is in smothering that. A wet blanket puts out fires. Glad Moses didn’t use one on that bush.

        Like

  5. T. F. Thompson · January 29, 2018

    I have but one really full response. We should take their advice and apply it with giving to the CHURCH. Sure. We’ll see how they really back a program if it is applied against them and their income. It so easy to say against the poor slobs who have nothing to begin with. Sure. they give us even more reasons not to assist, not to love or affirm their worth. Too, let those bums send me $25 for my comments. Oh, yeah. I know how this is all for my benefit and how they just love to help me. Those same bums wouldn’t give me the time of day if I needed help. IN fact, I don’t need them at all. LIke Robert Morris in his book< Include me OUt. I am not in it with them. I would rather be viewed as an outsider.

    Like

  6. harolene · January 29, 2018

    I totally agree with everything you said! I’ve seen and heard it all. Another way to get people to give and I’ve never heard of this latest one. 😇

    Like

  7. DH · February 1, 2018

    Interesting read.

    Like

  8. Agent X · February 3, 2018

    I have wrestled with whether or not to say this part, but here goes:

    The instructor/facilitator for this course here in the local church is a good guy I admire and respect. (This class, of course, puts a bit of stress on that, but I have not changed my opinion of the man. His efforts to include me and get me to participate despite my misgivings are generous. He has extended fellowship to me and my opinion. I am thankful for that.

    As PART of all that, he insisted on purchasing my seat at the table on my behalf. I declined, of course, but he insisted again. Then he finally told me that one of the other participants gave $40, and If I paid $5, that would cover the seat. So I took his offer, and I got a discounted rate the others do not enjoy.

    On the one hand, I want to state that I personally have not paid the full fare, even though the post above would suggest I did. Thus, I want to be transparent about it. On the other hand, I am not letting his generosity temper my review at all. I think this class stinks. I am here to be persuaded otherwise if possible (trying to have an open mind), but to voice opposition if not. His contribution has not influenced this or softened it. However, the generosity on this and other points of contention do win him respect with me. He is making every effort he can to be inclusive of me, and I appreciate that. Kudos to him for it!

    The reason I struggle divulging this information is not because I am ashamed to receive his charity, but because I don’t see anyone else getting this break. I hope it doesn’t cause hard feelings with others that I get a break they do not.

    In the end, I think that possibility is small. However, IF someone from my church reads here and feels that way, I will pay your ticket price to you to make up for it. Surely that will temper any feeling of being slighted by my arrangement.

    However, if you feel that way, act fast, because I cannot afford to do that for the whole class. First come first serve til the money runs out.

    What can I say, the guy paid my way in the class all about not paying other people’s way! Irony of ironies! Hope this help doesn’t hurt anyone!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. John Lewis · August 30, 2018

    Just a quick thought after reading this post…sounds like a rich market exists for ways to get out of following Jesus commands and still being able to pat yourself on the back for really doing what’s best for the poor. Like what some some of us really are interested in is keeping all of our greenbacks in our pockets while still maintain the self illusion and self congratulatory status of being a “good Christian”.

    Wonder if your church would host a class which questioned the wisdom of giving a tithe. I mean, we really do know better how to present Jesus to the world than our church don’t we. And we really can do a better job of caring for the poor than the church, can’t we?? Oh wait a minute, what’s best for all involved is that we don’t give to the poor or the church….we can just hang onto all of our money and pat ourselves on the back for being good Christian people anyway.

    At least we might be a little more clear about the god we are actually serving. But Jesus spoke about that too, didn’t he? As true now as it has ever been, we can not serve God and mammon….

    Unless mammon is your god…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Agent X · August 31, 2018

      Thanx for your feedback, John.

      Yes… we have an industrial problem at this point.

      Liked by 1 person

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