Posts tagged with: charity

Having a small child in the home gives the opportunity for exposure to things you might otherwise never have reason to see. Such is the case with the VeggieTales in my house. We have “King George and the Ducky” on VHS, which gets occasional play on the set. The story itself adapts the tale of David and Bathsheba, but before the story gets underway, there’s a brief prelude.

Larry the Cucumber and Bob the Tomato are the stars of the VeggieTales, but two of their friends who don’t usually take center stage give telling a story about selfishness a try. What they come up with doesn’t meet the VeggieTales standards, but it does help tell us something about the way the market works in the real world. Jimmy and Jerry Gourd tell the tales of “The Englishman who went up a hill (and came down with all the bananas),” and “The Swede who went up a hill (and came down with all the strawberries).”


The Englishman has taken all the bananas, “leaving of course the inhabitants of the hill with no bananas and therefore bestowing the term ‘selfish’ upon myself” (QuickTime video here).

When asked if he’s going to eat any of the bananas, the Englishman responds that of course he can’t eat any, because you can’t have bananas without strawberries. “You’re soooo selfish,” cries a voice from off-camera.

The Swede who went up a hill does the same thing as the Englishman, but with strawberries instead of bananas. And the Swede will not eat any strawberries, because you can’t enjoy strawberries without bananas.


When the Englishman and the Swede see that the other one has what he needs to enjoy his own fruit, they ask in turn, “Might you spare a banana/strawberry?” But each character is so selfish that he is unwilling to part with any of his own fruit, and so both the Swede and the Englishman are left unable to enjoy their fruit but unwilling to simply give away his own fruit to make the other better off.

This brief story ends with Jimmy and Jerry Gourd moralizing, “Don’t be selfish.”

Needless to say, Larry and Bob are not satisfied with this tale, and go on to tell the story of King George and the Ducky. Part of the reason Jimmy and Jerry’s tale doesn’t work is that it is too simplistic and unrealistic.

That is, it doesn’t take into account the way in which market mechanisms can redirect selfish behavior into something that does benefit both parties in an exchange. The situation Jimmy and Jerry sets up simply has each possessor of the fruit ask for the corresponding fruit, implying a reliance upon the charity of the other party.

But what is much more likely to happen in a situation like this is that the Swede and the Englishman would engage in a trade, so that each would give their own fruit to get the other fruit, and in the end both would be able to enjoy strawberries and bananas. There’s no need to depend on or appeal to the charity of the other party in this situation. And an unwillingness to trade would make the lot of both the Swede and the Englishman worse off, as they would each be left with unusable and rotten fruit.

The incentive for their own material benefit would be to trade. In this way the market mechanism can function to take selfish action and make it serve a mutually beneficial purpose. In doing so there is an element of public, civic, or social good that is performed, irrespective of the selfish motivations of the parties involved.

None of these observations do anything to mitigate concerns about the ways in which the Swede and the Englishman went about obtaining their monopoly on the respective fruits. Nor does the material benefit created in the exchange obviate the need for charity and love in human social relations. And furthermore we certainly can’t say that because selfish behavior resulted in some material good that somehow selfishness is to be understood as a virtue in the truest sense. At best brazen selfishness can manifest itself as external righteousness, civic virtue, or a public good and is to be distinguished from true righteousness, virtue, and good. Selfishness is still sin.

But what such an exchange does show is that even in a world marked by sin and depravity, some good can come out of evil. As the Puritan theologian Richard Baxter has written,

If nature be not supported, men are not capable of other good. We pray for our daily bread before pardon and spiritual blessings; not as if it were better, but that nature is supposed before grace, and we cannot be Christians if we be not men.

In this sense, the market mechanism functions as a sort of preserving grace by which material wealth is created and enjoyed, allowing human beings to continue to live and even flourish. But rather than being the end of human activity, such material prosperity is a foundational reality necessary for the actualization of greater goods, a necessary but not sufficient condition for human happiness.

Via CrossLeft, which promises to bring “balance” to the Christian voice, this short and interesting piece from Larry James’s blog Urban Daily, which documents his reflections as “president and CEO for Central Dallas Ministries, a human and community development corporation with a focus on economic and social justice at work in inner city Dallas, Texas.”

Says James, “If your goal is community and human development, you look for ways to avoid the creation of dependence or a neo-colonial approach to relief and compassion efforts.”

Of course the realization of freedom, which revolves around asking the question, “Does a program prepare clients for independence, or does it keep them dependent?,” is one of the hallmarks of effective compassion.

For groups that put these principles of effective compassion into practice, both in Dallas and around the country, check out the Acton Institute’s Samaritan Guide.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, February 14, 2007

In this week’s Acton Commentary, I examine the most recent buzz-worthy trend in the lottery industry: privatization.

While most critics of these moves have pointed to the foolhardiness of selling off a long-term income stream for a lump sum jackpot, I argue that privatization by itself does nothing to address the underlying problems afflicting the lottery business. I conclude, “A government-run monopoly would merely be replaced by a government-enforced monopoly.”

And as I’ve claimed previously, government reliance on lotteries as a morally praiseworthy generator of income is illusory. UPDATE (HT: Mere Comments): Here’s a bit from the abstract from a recent article examining lottery trends from 1976-1996: “One of the most important policy-oriented determinants of income inequality is the lottery and a significant portion of the increase in income inequality over our two-decade time period is attributable to the increasing prevalence and popularity of state lotteries” (Elizabeth A. Freund and Irwin L. Morris, “The Lottery and Income Inequality in the States,” Social Science Quarterly 86 [December 2005 Supplement]: 996-1012).

The newest incarnation of the Michigan Lottery’s attempt to sell the industry as contributing to the common good describes the lottery as a thread running through all sectors of society, connecting everyone in a single bond of community. Is it really true that under a state-run lottery system that “we all win,” or all we all simply trapped in the same web?

Earlier this year the New York Post reported that the expansion of legalized gambling is having a deleterious effect on the ability of non-profits to raise funds through gambling fundraising events (HT: Don’t Tell the Donor).

And now there are some plans in the works to expand lotteries to a whole new level. The UK Telegraph reports that within five years a multi-million dollar worldwide lottery could be put in place.

I actually am quite (pleasantly) surprised that some enterprising young congressperson hasn’t yet been successful in putting forward the idea of a national lottery. Surely the Commerce Clause could be invoked to regulate and nationalize the regional interstate lottery games that are currently underway. The talk about something like No Child Left Behind being an unfunded mandate could be cut off in one fell swoop.

Read the entirety of this week’s commentary here.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Friday, February 9, 2007

I’m a bit behind on this story, but as was reported by numerous media outlets over the past few months, a new trend has begun at some American churches. ATM machines, dubbed “Automatic Tithing Machines,” are appearing at some Protestant churches in the South. The machines are administered by the for-profit business SecureGive, run by Pastor Marty Baker and his wife, who integrated the machines at their Stevens Creek Community Church in 2005.

Proponents point to the transition to a digital age and the convenience of electronic transactions. Stevens Creek Community attendee Josh Marshall said of using the machines, “I paid for gas today with a card, and got lunch with one. This is really no different.”

Amy Forrest said this, “If you give cash, you think about it. And if you swipe a credit card, you don’t. It makes it easier to type that 4-0.”

These attitudes may not be truly representative, but they at the very least illustrate the potential for the convenience offered by these machines to turn faithful giving into something that is unreflective, automatic, mundane, and worldly. That’s certainly not the kind of giving that God wants.

Baker says of his concept, “It’s truly like an ATM for Jesus.” (more…)

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, January 29, 2007

The business of philanthropy education, teaching people how to give their money away, is a growth industry, according to Business Week (HT: The Wealth Report).

It seems that wealthy kids often have trouble realizing and meeting their moral duties to be good stewards of their inheritance. “With my inheritance, I felt a sense of guilt and responsibility,” says Jos Thalheimer, 24, whose great-grandfather founded the American Oil Co. (Amoco) in 1910.

John Stossel’s recent “Cheap in America” program examined this phenomenon, contrasting the attitudes of Fabian Basabe, the “male Paris Hilton,” with Ben Goldhirsh, son of a publishing mogul.

Basabe, it seems, is unwilling and uninterested in doing good: “I’m going to live forever, by the way, so I’m going to have a lot of time to work and get involved.”

Goldhirsh, by contrast, “used the inheritance to start his own magazine, ‘Good,’ and donates subscription fees to charity. His father taught him that work, and charity — not money — is the route to happiness.”

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Tuesday, January 2, 2007

‘Tis the season for making resolutions. Today’s Zondervan>To The Point newsletter focuses on a variety of Christian resolutions, and includes a link to a piece from Leadership Journal on Jonathan Edwards’ resolutions (related blog piece here).

One of my favorites: “Resolved, To be endeavoring to find out fit objects of charity and liberality.”

Here’s a good place to start doing that.

Blog author: jarmstrong
posted by on Friday, December 29, 2006

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."

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, December 21, 2006

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
posted by on Wednesday, December 20, 2006

“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.)

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Tuesday, December 19, 2006

In a much discussed op-ed for CNN last week, hipster church leaders Marc Brown and Jay Bakker (the latter’s profile, incidentally, immediately precedes that of yours truly in The Relevant Nation…a serendipitous product of alphabetical order) lodge a complaint against Christianity that doesn’t respect the call “love others just as they are, without an agenda.”

Speaking of Jesus, Brown and Bakker write, “The bulk of his time was spent preaching about helping the poor and those who are unable to help themselves. At the very least, Christians should be counted on to lend a helping hand to the poor and others in need.”

I’m sympathetic with their concerns that Christianity not become “co-opted by a political party” or only about “supporting laws that force others to live by their standards.” I’m less sympathetic with their emphasis on Christianity strictly as social gospel (the only mention of “hell” in the piece is as part of a rhetorical flourish at the piece’s beginning, having nothing to do with the biblical doctrine of everlasting punishment.)

In a piece for the Christian Science Monitor (HT: WorldMagBlog), Mark Totten writes that “a remarkable trend is emerging among Evangelicals today: the embrace of a social agenda that includes not only abortion and marriage, but poverty, AIDS, the environment, and human rights.” On one level, this reflects the positive engagement of evangelicals with the totality of public life, something that is important given the extent of Christ’s lordship.

Totten writes,

The most telling change is perhaps taking place in the pulpit. For most of the past century, Evangelicals have reacted against the Social Gospel movement of the progressive era, which many felt replaced the Gospel message with one of mere worldly social action. Today, however, a new generation of evangelical pastors is weaving an ethic of “neighbor love” into the fabric of sin and salvation.

(Totten cites the work of Rev. Tim Keller, whose work is discussed in more detail here and here, as a case in point.) The key here is that in an overreaction to the social gospel, some Christians eschewed any and all political or social engagement. We need to be careful, however, that in response to what may be too little engagement, we don’t return to the errors of the social gospel and make Christianity all about material or social well-being.

So, instead of the “either/or” dichotomy that Bakker and Brown set up between traditional political issues of the religious right (e.g. gay “marriage,” abortion) and the “new” concerns of political evangelicalism (e.g. the environment, poverty), it’s really a “both/and” equation. And this “both/and” extends beyond the political realm to the theological, so that we have a socially conscious and active Christianity that doesn’t abandon orthodox doctrine and concerns about salvation.

Augustine, in his monumental work De Doctrina Christiana (On Christian Teaching), captures this relationship well (emphasis mine):

Now of all those who are able to enjoy God together with us, some we love as people we can help, some as people we can be helped by, some as ones both whose help we need, and whose needs we help to meet, while there are some on whom we ourselves confer no benefits, and from whom we do not expect any either. Still, we ought to want all of them to love God together with us, and all our helping them or being helped by them is to be referred to that one single end (1.29.30).

As Augustine elsewhere observes, “A person who sorrows for someone who is miserable earns approval for the charity he shows, but if he is genuinely merciful he would far rather there were nothing to sorrow about” (Confessions, 3.2.3).

What does this mean in the context of Christian evangelism? That we not simply seek to bind up physical wounds, but minister to the whole person, body and soul. And real ministry to the soul entails that we relate the true situation of all sinners, for as Augustine also confesses, “my sin was the more incurable for my conviction that I was not a sinner” (5.10.18).

Brown and Bakker write that Christians are to “love others just as they are, without an agenda.” If taken to an extreme, this claim is a radical departure from traditional Christian faith. For not only in the words of Augustine are we to love others as they might become brothers and sisters in Christ (“No sinner, precisely as sinner, is to be loved; and every human being, precisely as human, is to be loved on God’s account”), but also in the words of Jesus we are to show our love to one another by proclaiming the gospel: “Neither do I condemn you. Go now and leave your life of sin.”