Category: Effective Compassion

Syracuse University professor Arthur Brooks challenges perceived mainstream social orthodoxy in his new book, Who Really Cares: America’s Charity Divide – Who Gives, Who Doesn’t and Why It Matters. For generations it has been assumed that political and social liberals are generous towards the poor while conservatives are proverbial tightwads. At least since the days of Charles Dickens’ Scrooge this has been the popular view. Liberals continually remind us that they are the ones who really care about welfare since they promote the grandiose government solutions to the problem.

No one should doubt that government has a role to play in finding solutions. Private charity cannot do it all. But the question has always been what role government should have and how the solutions it creates should be paid for and then properly delivered. I believe government does best in this area when it administers welfare at the local level, where people know people and thus get involved with them personally. When welfare comes from a large bureaucratic government trickling downward through numerous agencies it repeatedly fails to accomplish what is promised. This is one reason why the Clinton reforms worked so well, even though there are still problems to solve.

Brooks challenges conventional wisdom about who really cares for the poor, showing that it is conservatives who give more to the needy. Each year, he notes, conservatives give 30% more to charity than liberals. And the more religious people are the more charitable they are likely to be. Believers are actually 57% more likely to help the homeless, for example, than secularists.

All of this leads me back to my observation above. Modern liberalism has come to equate compassion with large-scale federal solutions through government run programs. This has eroded a sense of personal responsibility and leaves many liberals out of touch with the truly poor and weak among us. (There are numerous exceptions thus I say “many” and not all.) We will have no sense of responsibility for our neighbor if the government is to do the job for us by using taxpayer money. And, as the National Review recently noted, “When conservatives say that low taxes and spending should be supplemented by a safety net that is privately funded, they put their money where their mouth is.”

In short, this research by Arthur Brooks underscores why I am repeatedly unimpressed with the solutions offered by Sojourners and Christians like Jim Wallis. Their heart is in the right place for sure. And they rightly remind us that the prophetic witness of Scripture matters profoundly to serious Christians. But what they mistakenly do is equate larger government involvement with actual solutions to the problem. I suggest a great gathering of religious conservatives and progressives might go a long way to airing out these differences for much good. I would love to see the good folks at Sojourners, and parallel conservative groups, stage such a meeting. The present stalemate, between the ideologies of the two political parties and their advocates, has created a false sense that each side clearly knows the real answers to these complex social and economic problems. I believe that we can have both free markets and morality. In fact, I believe this is the only way that we can retain personal freedom and social justice joined with real compassion and concern for the poor that will make a long term difference. Christians can do better and leaders ought to seek such solutions.

John H. Armstrong is founder and director of ACT 3, a ministry aimed at "encouraging the church, through its leadership, to pursue doctrinal and ethical reformation and to foster spiritual awakening."

The “10 years after welfare reform” articles of this past summer are old news, of course. Not surprisingly, indications were that, like any public policy, reform hadn’t been the all-time poverty solution, but that policies had, in fact, helped a significant number of people to move themselves to self-sufficiency. A recent Wall Street Journal series highlighted the broad range of issues related to moving out of poverty. A companion piece to the December 28 entry, “Economists Are Putting Theories to Scientific Test” notes that MIT has set up a center called the Abdul Latif Jameeel Poverty Action Lab focused exclusively on using experiments to study poverty.

Revisiting public policy and referenceing research can be insightful, especially as we attempt to make responsible end-of-the-year financial contribution decisions. What did pundits and experts alike argue is effective compassion, and how far on or off the mark are they in comparison to our own giving standards?

There is an abundance of good how-to-give-responsibly material from varied sources. With the Buffet donation and the Clinton philanthropy meeting in Little Rock, even recent international stories, Big Donors are making their legacy marks. Few of us have such resources, however. Does that mean that very limited, perhaps virtually unnoticed giving is any less valuable?

Less self-focus and more other-focus is a good thing, approached differently but consistently across the world’s faith doctrines. A New Testament Gospel parable underscores the relative value of giving…..not relative to world impact but relative to the personal sacrifice required of the giver.

The story of the Widow’s Mite is worth revisiting. Interestingly, Wikipedia reports: “This tale is held by most modern Christians to mean that a gift should to be judged not by its absolute value, but by how it compares relatively; that it is not the impressiveness or purchasing power which matters, but what it means.” There is theological debate about the ‘true meaning’ of the parable. I’ll leave such to the theologians and consider a ‘face value’ interpretation. There is a quality about sacrificial giving that facilitates my being a better person. To give sacrificially rather than from abundance means that I probably considered my own needs (wants, most likely), weighed them against neighbors’ need, and determined to put the others before myself.

It appears that ready sacrifice isn’t so especially American these days. Unlike the American culture that marveled Tocqueville, twenty first century America is ruefully referred to as the “me” culture–me first, me now, more for me, is there any other consideration except me? Brokaw referred to Americans of World War II era as “the greatest generation.” Sacrifice was a way of life–literally of life, of resources, of simple sacrifices such as sugar and gasoline. But just as our growing abundance has empowered Big Donors to make a Big Impact, has personal sacrifice for others been eclipsed? Arthur Brooks certifies that Americans remain the most generous, and more interestingly, those with less give more

But I’m not just musing over personal sacrifice in the amount given. Am I deferring to personal comfort and ease, i.e., online giving, vs. my having to make a more concerted effort to determine both program and financial effectiveness of a charity helping needy neighbors?

I questioned a Generation Y colleague, who of course is technically astute. Was I reflecting my age, working from an assumption that personal connection was of higher value, that deferring to click (Internet) donation was a contender to Subsidiarity? He offered some insights about the ease of accessing global information about need, that my “needy neighbors” now could reasonably include global neighbors vs. only those in my own community. And I’m not pushing facilitators of online giving in to a questionable position. Many of the charities that we know well now have the capacity to accept online donations.

So this is the recommended benchmark: Give sacrificially. Make the personal effort to discern your need from want and then compare to your neighbor’s need……next door or across the globe. If possible, use the Internet to investigate how well your charity of choice invests resources that you give them. Investigate just how much an Internet “giving intermediary” takes for processing. Don’t ever discount the needs of your own community, those perhaps with no Website, not in high profile charity registries, but helpful to your neighbors with food and health needs, challenged teens, people who simply need a friend.

Those personal expenditures are the epitome of personal sacrifice……and worthy of being categorized with the widow who gave her mite.

In this week’s Acton commentary, I reflect on the past year’s developments for InnerChange Freedom Initiative, a ministry of Prison Fellowship. In June a federal judge in Iowa ruled against IFI’s work at Iowa’s Newton facility. In his ruling (PDF here), the judge wrote that the responsibility for combating recidivism is “traditionally and exclusively reserved to the state.” This means that since reducing recidivism is a “state function,” anyone working to combat recidivism is by definition a “state actor.”

Panopticon blueprint by Jeremy Bentham, 1791

I contrast the judge’s perspective with that of IFI and other advocates of the importance of civil society, using the theories of utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham to highlight their differences. Bentham too thought that reform was the task of the government. He argued for the construction of prisons along the model of his “panopticon,” literally meaning “all seeing,” where the extreme use of constant surveillance and individual sequestration would break down the anti-social behaviors of convicted criminals. It was a rather unintuitive program, to say the least, but an influential one nonetheless.

Bentham thought so little of religious practice in fact, that he thought communal worship would destroy his isolationist agenda. In other types of prison facilities prisoner solitude would necessarily be disturbed when prisoners were given “the benefits of attendance on Divine service.”

Under Bentham’s plan, however, prisoners “might receive these benefits, in every circumstance, without stirring from their cells. No thronging nor jostling in the way between the scene of work and the scene destined to devotion; no quarellings, nor confederatings, nor plottings to escape; nor yet any whips or fetters to prevent it.” The communal aspects of worship could thus be entirely dispensed with while placating the necessities of religious adherence.

All of these events effecting IFI’s work occurred in a year that saw a sharp increase in violent crime. For more on the broader picture of the year’s legal developments for faith-based work, see this year’s “The State of the Law 2006: Legal Developments Affecting Government Partnerships with Faith-Based Organizations” from the Roundtable on Religion and Social Welfare Policy. The report includes a section devoted to IFI’s case.

And as a recent article in the NYT magazine observes, there is a growing political coalition on the topic of prison reform. Chris Suellentrop writes with regard to a specific piece of legislation that almost passed in the last congressional session, but may be brought up again in the future, “If the Second Chance Act fails to pass, it will not be because the two parties cannot agree on the importance of rehabilitation programs in prisons. But it may be because they disagree on the role religious organizations should play in rehabilitation.” (HT: Mirror of Justice)

Read the entire commentary here.

Blog author: jballor
Thursday, December 21, 2006
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Filing your taxes just got a little more complicated. The IRS recently announced new guidelines for charitable deductions to be introduced for the 2007 tax year. Beginning next tax season, “taxpayers must provide bank records or other information when claiming deductions for charitable donations of money.”

These records can include credit card statements and canceled checks. And in addition, taxpayers “may also submit a written communication from the charity with the organization’s name, the date of the transaction and the amount of the contribution.” A number of charities that I contribute to already provide me with year-end statements, so just be ready to pass that paperwork along with your return.

HT: Zondervan>To The Point

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, December 20, 2006
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“The wicked borrows but does not pay back,

but the righteous is generous and gives…” Psalm 37:21

That verse is a pretty good introduction to the issues facing people who declare bankruptcy but want to continue to give to the church. As noted on this blog previously, there was some controversy over the legalization and regulation of the inclusion of charitable donations and tithes when filing for bankruptcy.

In yesterday’s BreakPoint, Chuck Colson weighs in, supporting the efforts of the Obama-Hatch tithing bill to allow “everyone in bankruptcy to continue regularly giving to churches and charities, just as they had before” the 2005 bankruptcy reform legislation had passed.

Colson concludes, “Allowing people to continue giving to others as they try to repay their creditors only promotes responsibility.”

(More on the latest developments on this legislation and recent court decisions here.)

…check out the helpful website by the Seymour Institute. Founded by the Rev. Gene Rivers in Boston, the Institute brings together information and tools to advocate for marriage in the black community.

I recently received a letter from a reader of my Acton Commentary column, "Marriage as a Social Justice Issue," which she had seen reprinted in modified form at Town Hall. My correspondent was concerned that I had overlooked a key fact: the lack of marriageable black men. She said, in part:

Education and the lower number of available black men are 2 major things you left out of your article. I know that marriage is important in the black community, but if every black man you meet has limited education, a criminal record and several children, what is getting married going to do, really? It is going to tie you to a man that can’t provide for you, that wouldn’t make sense. And if he didn’t treat you well, then there really is no reason to marry him.

I think the real propblem here is not that blacks don’t marry, it is that there are just not enough good black men to go around. So they screw around. Women are only human and they have needs. And if you are 30 never married with no prospects, I would imagine that over time, you get lonely, and men can take advantage of that, and they do. Very sad but true. So don’t make the single mom the bad guy here. We are not bad and plenty of us work and don’t get public assistance.

What can I say? She is correct. Put her point another way, many women may be making the best of a bad situation when they choose to have children without husbands.

My question to her, and to my readers: what can we do that would be constructive about the problem of lack of marriageable black men? Part of the problem is crime and incarceration, but that part of the problem is something neither I nor most readers are in any position to do anything about. My correspondent implied that men take advantage of the vulnerability of the woman who hopes for marriage or at least motherhood.

The reason this is important for EVERYONE and not just the black community is this: within the broader culture, the combination of feminist movement, gay rights movement and family law radicals are conspiring to make marriage a gender neutral institution. For all practical purposes, this has meant the marginalization of men from the family. In the black community, the process of marginalizing men is more or less complete. The kinds of family forms, and sexual dynamics we see there, is where the society as a whole is headed.

Cross posted at my blog.

Blog author: jballor
Thursday, December 14, 2006
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I can’t offer a wholesale endorsement, but it’s a critique worth a hearing…give it a watch.

See here for Acton’s answer to the One Campaign.

HT: eucharism

Following up on the story from a couple months back about restrictions to bankruptcy filings prohibiting filers from budgeting for tithing, and in the midst of the controversy surrounding Rick Warren’s invitation to Sen. Barack Obama to appear at a Saddleback Church event, news comes both houses of Congress have passed the “Obama-Hatch Tithing Bill.”

The bill would “protect an individual’s right to continue reasonable charitable contributions, including religious tithing, during the course of consumer bankruptcy. The measure passed the United States Senate in late September and will now be presented to the President for his signature” (HT: Religion Clause).

It’s good to see the folks on Capitol Hill respond when the ball is in their court. As U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Robert E. Littlefield, Jr. wrote in his original decision, “Whether tithing is or is not reasonable for a debtor in bankruptcy is for Washington to decide…. Until Congress amends [the 2005 Act], the court’s hands are tied and the tithing principles that this court once applied pre BAPCPA (the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005) have been effectively mooted.”

The judge says its not his job to legislate from the bench and that Congress needs to take action if they want to protect tithing. Congress acts and tithing is protected. Now that’s the separation of powers at work.

Blog author: kwoods
Friday, December 1, 2006
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John Stossel’s 20/20 show last Wednesday night, “Cheap in America,” asked the tough questions about American generosity. It was an intriguing piece, weaving contrasting arguments for two key conclusions: Bureaucracies, government ones and even big charity ones (national or international), just don’t do as good a job as private, local donors and charities; and (2) Americans are truly more generous than any other people on the planet–no matter their means. Rich and poor alike give generously.

So the “Cheap Americans” slogans making their way around the globe are simply wrong. The well-intended persuaders, even personally generous high-profile Americans, who argue that poverty and disaster relief solutions rest with a bigger portion of the US GNP, demonstrate incomplete information at best, inaccurate at worst.

Stossel interviewed Arthur Brooks, someone I’ve had the pleasure of recently talking with at different charity award events. His new book Who Really Cares, rooted in extensive research of American charity, has made him a high profile voice at a most opportune time of year. He says, “When you look at the data, it turns out the conservatives give about 30% more. And incidentally, conservative-headed families make slightly less money.” Stereotypes that liberals care more and give more, and that a higher income means increased generosity simply aren’t supported.

So one point is clear, defensible, and should motivate that worthy end-of-year giving: Charity does it better. Private donations are more substantial and yield more positive effects on the givers and receivers than any government effort. Volunteerism, direct involvement with those in need, is extremely powerful and productive.

There’s a second, equally critical point, interestingly not in the sites of the “more government money to fight world poverty” campaigns: effective giving. Give to organizations that transform people’s lives and communities.

Jesus told a parable that emphasized stewardship (Luke 19). Don’t “just give,” with no discernment. Marvin Olasky put practical guidelines on such giving with his 7 Principles of Effective Compassion. Maclellan Foundation’s Marketplace encourages givers to be both intentional and proactive. There are multiple charity evaluation tools, albeit with different emphais and valuation paradigms. Due diligence results in good stewardship.

That’s a good reason to include investigation of local needs; the credibility of the appeals and the organizations are more easily verified. Don’t overlook such community needs amid the high gloss, professionally prepared stack of appeals that have already arrived in your mailbox.

Today’s online Philanthropy News Digest carries a story about high hopes among some charity hospital fundraisers based on current stock market performance. And hospitals that include significant charity services do have valid need. But what about little charities? Linda Czipo, executive director of the Center for Nonprofit Corporations in New Brunswick, adds “Not all organizations are going to benefit equally. For small organizations, the impact won’t be as large.”

Individual good stewards can change that proclamation. Giving that is direct, personal, and accountable is the best to give or to receive. Oprah gave her October 30 show audience a chance to prove that. Every member of Oprah’s audience went home with $1,000 and a Sony DVD Handycam with the challenge to “Pay it Forward” to others.…but there was a catch. Oprah challenged more than 300 audience members to donate their money to a charitable cause. Sisters Kristy O’Conner and Kasey Osborne Lumpp were in that audience.

After making some calls, the sisters came upon Atlanta Union Mission and its women and children’s center, My Sister’s House. Once they decided to help the Mission, they took Oprah’s challenge and worked to multiply the effects of their gift. The sisters did not stop with their respective $1,000 contributions. Instead, they asked Q100 for help in getting word out to the community about the needs of Atlanta Union Mission’s My Sisters House. Q100 jumped on board and asked Kroger to be a collection site for donations. In addition, the Mission has been featured every morning on Q100 this week with live interviews with staff, clients, and Kristy and Kasey. They also went to every retailer they could find soliciting donations for the Mission.

And Christmas came early to the women and children at Atlanta Union Mission’s My Sister’s House on November 3 when Kristy and Kasey presented nearly $130,000 worth of gifts and monetary donations they had collected during the previous week.

The president of Atlanta’s Rescue Mission reports that close to a quarter million dollars of inkind and cash gifts have been received as a direct result of the good stewardship of Kristy and Kasey.