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Neal Johnson: When Charity Shames

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There’s a story that I heard, of a miner, a family down in– it was in the Appalachia area and the church there really thought that they were doing a great deal because they would go in, they said they would pick the poorest families and they would take them Christmas gifts and turkeys and that sort of thing. So they did. They went to this family and they presented them with all the gifts and gave them to them and all the children had gifts; they had a hot meal on the table. The church was so pleased with what they had done, and then they left. And the husband just broke down and cried because he said, “You mean in this community, we are thought of as the poorest family in the community?” The shame that came with that, with the charity that had been given so lovingly out of the best of intentions, but it absolutely shamed him and it destroyed his life. I heard it from his son. He said, “It destroyed my father because he said he was so shamed in front of the rest of the community because they didn’t think that he was a person of worth that they had to take care of his family for him.”

C. Neal Johnson, from an Interview Oct. 8 at a Partners Worldwide Conference in Grand Rapids.

Jonathan Witt


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  • Roger McKinney

    I had a personal experience like that. When I was in high school the community would do something similar. I remember arriving at one house to deliver groceries and gifts. The father was so embarrassed he broke down in tears and left the room. We are so obsessed with making help as personal as we possibly can because that makes us feel good: we know exactly how much we have helped and whom we have helped. But if we would only think of the other person we would realize that impersonal help is usually the best. Don’t force charity on people. Make it available to those who want it.

  • Jack Chism

    I partly agree with you,Roger. Forcing charity, or arriving uninvited with it, can belittle the person you give to. But I have reservations about the part where you said “impersonal help is usually the best.” When the recipient has no one to thank, or from whom to make the request, he can only see it as free, or something he’s entitled to. But if he sees the face of the person who offers help, you have a human to human transaction. A man with tender pride may wait awhile before requesting help; but the decision is in his own hands. He may ask once or twice, and redouble his efforts not to have to ask again. Also he may be motivated to “repay” later by offering help to others.

  • John

    Biblical Hierarchies in Service to our Father through Christ.
    This post shares something very profound, which we must consider when we share with those who have less than us. The point: most fathers, however poor, are very conscious of their honorable duty to take care of their families’ needs and family damage can result from usurping his role if the “chain of command” is not acknowledged. Damage a father, damage a family.

    In this case of charity, the generous minded in these stories should have first consulted with the father, the HEAD of the FAMILY before considering usurping his role as provider and protector. Only through the father should such charity have flowed. THINK TWICE, SHOW RESPECT ….

    A respect for such biblical governance has been lost lost in the past two generations!! It is discouraging that we are so clueless – I doubt most people in the feminized society can even understand the concepts to which I am referring here.

  • Darryl

    If someone or some family IS actually the poorest in the community, and some come and donate goods to them, I cannot see the demonic shame in that. (SHAME is a demon.)

    There is no shame in offering or accepting heart-felt charity from well-intentioned souls. This father LET the demon of SHAME lie to him. He should have either refused the charity or just admitted they WERE the poorest in the community and be THANKFUL for such generosity! Truth is truth. No need to live in lies, please!

  • Darryl

    Although, a fellow patriarch suggests that the charity should go directly to the Father, rather than to the family without observing God’s chain of command, with the Father being the head.

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  • Patrick

    I have never had an experience such as outlined above, either as donor or recipient. I did volunteer with Catholic Worker. One day we were short of volunteers to serve those who regularly come for a meal. I suggested we just ask one of those being served to help with the serving, too. The looks I got made me think I had just suggested a grossly unnatural act in a public place. It was then that I realized that my bleeding heart compassion was insufficient and that I “didn’t get it and probably never will”, for which I think I should be cluelessly thankful.

    Considering the sad state of marriage and fatherhood in America, I’d wager it’s harder to find a father to shame than in the past. With the current welfare system, it’s likely mom would have kicked the poor performing father from the home, or just not bothered to marry. I recall the lady who interviewed for a job at our business. She proudly announced that she had no child care concerns because her boy friend lived with her and he was unemployed (with a hint that he would remain unemployable)…no problem of shame for that family.