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…