Friday, March 24, 2017

Before You Give To Charity This Christmas Ask Yourself Why?

FYI: I've neglected my blog in recent months, so I'm posting some stuff I've sent out to my church during that time.  This explains why some of the links and topics are somewhat dated.  Here they are for the purposes of posterity.

It's that time of year--Christmastime--when we are approached on all sides by charities requesting money.  The Salvation Army bell ringers greet us as we enter stores.  Our jobs ask us to contribute to the "Adopt-a-Family" fund.  Car dealerships offer to give $100 to the charity of your choice when you buy a new car.  Radio stations hold toy drives.  You know the drill.

Do you ever ask yourself why all this charity is necessary?

Recently the director of a non-profit Christian ministry shared with me an experience from early in her career.  She worked for a charity where they offered a "Christmas Store" for low-income families who couldn't afford presents at Christmastime.  The "store" idea was that families could "shop" the donated items and pay a small amount for them so that it preserved some element of pride in the process.  There's nothing necessarily wrong with the idea, but the well-meaning Christian volunteers who "checked out" each family when they finished would say with all sincerity, "Merry Christmas!  See you next year."  See you next year?  There's an assumption behind that statement which says these families' conditions will not change for the better in the coming year and one year from today they will need help once again.  

My friend's story stuck with me, because in my seminary days I ran a "Christmas Store" for a group of churches near Richmond, VA.  For four years I ran the store, and it never occurred to me to consider why the same people came every year.  I was too busy working to set up the store, line up the volunteers to run it, collect the donations from churches and shop with the cash donations given to the cause.  I was so busy running this charitable event, it never occurred to me to wonder why it was necessary in the first place or why nothing ever seemed to change for these families.  I'm ashamed to admit it, but if anything, I was grateful many of the same families needed help year after year.  It made my work easier.  I could just copy and paste names from one year to the next.  I gave no thought to justice and why these families' life conditions remained stuck where they were.  Truth be told, I wasn't thinking about those folks being worthy of the same life I enjoyed.  I wasn't really seeing them through God's eyes.  I'm sure they were grateful for what they received, but I wonder what, if anything, could have happened if I and the many well-meaning Christians running that Christmas Store would have put some thought into why our work was necessary in the first place.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not urging you to refuse to give to charities at Christmastime, far from it.  The need is great all year round but the need is often most cruel during the holidays.  Most non-profits I know plan their annual budgets based on what people give between Thanksgiving and Christmas, because that's when people are most likely going to give.  There's nothing wrong with giving to charity, provided it's a good one.

Giving to charity, however, rarely solves the problems of poverty, racism and injustice.  The need charities exist to meet should cause us--especially those of us who claim to follow Jesus Christ--to consider why that need exists in the first place.  
  • Why are their so many homeless people and why don't enough homes exist for them?
  • Why are impoverished families often situated in the same areas of a town or city?  What is in the history of that town or city which pushed all these poor folks into a specific area?
  • Why are there so many African American families living in poverty?  If we are in a supposed "post-racial" culture, why is it that so many black people remain segregated in economic ways from white people?  Are we really past the multi-generational effects of Jim Crow and racial segregation in housing?
  • Why are there so many families with family members in prison?  Why is it that we don't feel any safer, but our prisons are overflowing?  Why is it that people who aren't white typically receive longer jail sentences than people who are white?
  • Why is it that the so-called "War on Drugs" puts more people in prison but drugs remain the same problem as always?  
  • Why are there so many families with children who either go hungry on any given day or are not food stable--meaning their food supply could be cut at any time?
  • Why are their so many people living in poverty who nonetheless work full-time jobs and work at those jobs really, really hard?
  • Why are transgender people more likely to be homeless, the victims of violence and denied healthcare?
  • Why is it that so many people are forced below the poverty line due to the cost of necessary healthcare?
  • If Christians really love our neighbors as ourselves and see others as created in the image of God, why are we content only to give to charity rather than working to change the conditions that make giving to charity necessary?
The questions go on and on, but we rarely ask them much less seek answers to them.

So, give to charity.  Give generously this Christmas.  As you do, say a prayer for God to open your eyes, to bring you new understanding to awaken your spirit to the questions of Christian social justicej.  When you remember the Christmas story, remember that Jesus was born to a family at the mercy of political and economic conditions beyond their control.  The story demonstrates that God is at work amidst the power of injustice and oppression, so God's people should be awake to the activity of the Divine.

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