Posts tagged with: charity

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, May 3, 2006

This section from Reinhold Niebuhr’s Moral Man and Immoral Society: A Study in Ethics and Politics strikes me as quite true:

The coercive factors, in distinction to the more purely moral and rational factors, in political relations can never be sharply differentiated and defined. It is not possible to estimate exactly how much a party to a social conflict is influenced by a rational argument or by the threat of force. It is impossible, for instance, to know what proportion of a privileged class accepts higher inheritance taxes because it believes that such taxes are good social policy and what proportion submits merely because the power of the state supports the taxation policy. Since political conflict, at least in times when controversies have not reached the point of crisis, is carried on by the threat, rather than the actual use, of force, it is always easy for the casual or superficial observer to overestimate the moral and rational factors, and to remain oblivious to the covert types of coercion and force which are used in the conflict.

This obfuscation of motives is part of what differentiates charity from taxation. True charity cannot be coerced.

See also: Reinhold Niebuhr Today, ed. Richard John Neuhaus (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989).

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, April 20, 2006

Here’s an article in the Washington Post recently that I want to pass along, “Tithing Rewards Both Spiritual and Financial,” by Avis Thomas-Lester.

Among the highlights are the Rev. Jonathan Weaver of Greater Mount Nebo African Methodist Episcopal Church, who says, “Some people have a sense that pastors are heavy-handed . . . in the use of the Scripture to insist that people tithe. But we are not encouraging people to give 10 percent. We want them to be effective managers of the other 90 percent. God wants us to be effective managers of what He has entrusted us with.”

The story also points out the critical function that churches serve in the relief of the poor: “Long before government programs were put in place to help the poor and the needy, black churches were responsible for assisting their congregations with everything from food and shelter during Reconstruction to legal help during the civil rights movement. Money dropped into the offering plate wasn’t just for the building fund. Black churches paid to help poor and disenfranchised citizens at a time when no other help was available, experts said.”

The article goes on to observe some of the potential pitfalls of tithing, namely giving only “under the belief that the members will prosper financially in return.” This is part of a larger “prosperity gospel” movement, and as this piece illustrates, is not restricted to churches in the US.

For more about how the principle of the tithe can function in helping the poor and those who need it the most, see my “The North American Church and Global Stewardship,” and “Building on the Tithe.”

Pat Nolan, president of Justice Fellowship, writes about the challenges that non-profits face in seeking funding, in the latest Justice eReport, “Equpping the Armies of Compassion.” Nolan highlights the Acton Institute’s Samaritan Guide and We Care America, which has a grant center that assists charities in getting proposals together.

And on a related note, Joe Knippenberg at No Left Turns critiques an article by Amy Sullivan in The New Republic, “Patron Feint,” which depicts the faith-based initiative as a mere political tool to satisfy the GOP’s evangelical base.

Joe Knippenberg raises three issues with respect to my critique of the faith-based initiative (here and here). He writes first, “any activity that depends upon money is potentially corrupting, whether the source is governmental or private…. Why governmental money is different from private in this regard isn’t clear to me.”

I agree that the potential for corruption is present in both cases, but the immediate constituency differs from private to public funds. For the former, the donors are the immediate stake-holders and the charity is accountable to them. For the latter, politicians and bureaucrats are those who hold the charity immediately accountable.

Despite the best intentions of many people who work in government, special interests and ideologies can skew their proper stewardship of taxpayer money, and does not always represent the interests of the citizenry. Since taxpayer money is mediated through the government, there is another layer of institutionalization that serves to increase the distance and thus the accountability between the charity and the donor constituency.

This raises another important issue, which is that strictly speaking taxpayers shouldn’t be considered “donors” in the traditional sense at all. Paying taxes is enforced by the power of the state in a way that voluntary donation to private charities is not. One aspect of this is the distancing effect I just pointed out, but another effect is that the moral virtue of the act of giving is displaced by the coercive nature of the taxpayer/government relationship. Surely those who voluntarily give even more to charities than they are required by taxation are worthy of even greater praise because of this, but nevertheless the nature of the money flowing in to charities from these two sources is quite different. One is coerced the other is voluntary. (more…)

My commentary last week on the situation of the Silver Ring Thing has occasioned some conversation on the LewRockwell.com Blog (here, here, here, and here). The consensus on the faith-based initiative seems to be that, in the words of William L. Anderson, they “were pointing out at the beginning that this was a bad idea, and that taking the state’s money ultimately would mean that the state would be interfering with the larger mission of these religious groups.”

Contrariwise, Joseph Knippenberg, who blogs at No Left Turns and is a professor at Oglethorp University, writes in this week’s The American Enterprise online column that the faith-based initiative is being undermined by partisan Democrats and that it will have to continue under the diligent faithfulness of Republicans.

Citing the differences between the Republican and Democratic approaches, he writes of the former, “because the shekels come without unnecessary shackles, the effect of government funding isn’t necessarily homogenizing or secularizing. In a nutshell, this co-religionist hiring exemption enables government to cooperate with, but not dominate, a vigorous and diverse private philanthropic sector.”

The danger is, in Knippenberg’s view, that the faith-based initiative will become dominated by Democratic partisans, who “would force every government contractor into essentially the same bureaucratic mold. Every recipient of government funding would ultimately be simply an extension of the government, offering more or less the same services in more or less the same setting.”

But even if Knippenberg is right, and there is this vast difference between the approaches of the two parties, it merely serves to underscore my point about the unreliability of government funding. He is responding in part to this Washington Post story which notes the boon that Bush’s faith-based initiative has been to certain conservative-minded charities. (more…)

Touting the success of his faith-based initiative last week, President Bush noted that faith-based charities received more than $2 billion last year from the federal government. But even as Bush announced that the Department of Homeland Security would be the 11th agency to establish an office for the faith-based initiative, some groups are finding the money to be a mixed blessing.

An example is The Silver Ring Thing (SRT), which following a settlement between the ACLU and the Department of Health and Human Services, can no longer recieve federal funds under its current program. In this week’s Acton Commentary, “A Golden Opportunity for ‘The Silver Ring Thing’,” I note the temptation facing SRT “to acquiesce to the HHS regulations and attempt to rigorously separate the faith element out of the program.”

I conclude that “the temporary setback of the loss of government funding has the potential to be a long-term opportunity for The Silver Ring Thing,” in the sense that SRT can seek out private sources of funding and evade the strings that are inevitably attached to government funding.

“You can’t be a faith-based program if you don’t practice your faith,” said President Bush. He also said, according to the AP, “It used to be that groups were prohibited from receiving any federal funding whatsoever because they had a cross or a star or a crescent on the wall. And that’s changed, for the better.”

We can hope, however, that the faith element in religious charities is not merely restricted to mere display of a religious symbol, but pervades the charitable work of the organization. It’s this “damaging form of secularization: the kind that separates Christian faith from works,” that The Silver Ring Thing must resist.

David Kuo, a former deputy director of the White House faith-based office, criticized the administration for allowing the initiative to become “a whisper of what was promised.” Acton senior fellow Marvin Olasky, in an interview on NPR’s All Things Considered, expressed disappointment with the lower priority the faith-based initiative from the Bush White House.

But at least part of the difficulty the program faces comes from the problems posed by the enforcement of secularizing regulations by government bureaucracy. When asked about the impediments that governmental regulations put on their charitable work, one non-profit worker responded: “The complexities of the laws affecting part-time workers have made it impossible for us to hire candidates we could afford to pay. We have been amazed to learn that hiring even one part-time employee makes us a ‘pen-pal’ with a complicated array of government agencies.”

Read the whole commentary here.

Last Wednesday, I was privileged to attend the Samaritan Awards Gala in Washington, D.C. I have to say up front that Acton’s Effective Compassion events are probably the most enjoyable for me to attend because invariably one comes into contact with a group of very special, very dedicated people who are completely devoted to what our society would term “lost causes,” and having great success.

Ken Ortman

While there were a number of award-winning programs at the Gala this year, I’d like to take some time to focus on the 2005 Samaritan Award Grand Prize Winners, Ken and Sheila Ortman of Lives Under Construction Boys Ranch in Lampe, Missouri. Ken and Sheila were joined in D.C. by their daughter Melissa, who serves as the Development Director for the Ranch, and 7 young men who are currently residents in their program.

Sheila Ortman

Ken, Sheila and Melissa are wonderful people – remarkably kind, decent, and humble – who are doing amazing work with young men who come out of shockingly difficult circumstances. They are hard workers – Ken remarked during a conversation that he couldn’t imagine working at a job like mine, which involves a lot of sitting at a desk – who moved from their South Dakota farm to southwestern Missouri in order to start a new life working with troubled boys. And they are successful – the LUC program has a 92 percent success rate over the last 20 years, turning many young men away from lives of crime and substance abuse and toward a productive life in society. They do so by establishing a structured environment within which the boys can learn respect for God, authority figures, and gain a proper view of themselves as persons.

Melissa Ortman

We had the chance to meet 7 of the young men who live at the ranch, and the transformation in their lives is evident and remarkable. By all outward appearances, these boys were just like any other group of young people touring Washington, D.C. You’d never know that each of them had likely had severe drug or behavioral problems and numerous encounters with the law. They were a group of normal, if somewhat rambunctious teens.

The LUC Bunch on the Mall in Washington, D.C.

It is truly a blessing to meet people like the Ortmans, and it was great as well to watch the boys – many of whom were on their first trip to a large city. As I noted earlier, I always enjoy Acton’s Effective Compassion events, but having these young men along added a spirit and sense of adventure to this trip that will make it unforgettable for me.

If you haven’t done so in the past, I encourage you to check out the many fine charities like LUC Boys Ranch that are in our online Samaritan Guide, which is an excellent resource for anyone looking for effective private charities across the United States. Many of the programs in the guide are very small, but doing amazing work, and are well worth your attention and support.

I had an opportunity to talk with a few of the boys and with Ken, Sheila and Melissa. To hear my conversation with the Ortmans, click here (4 mb mp3 file). To hear from the boys, click here (1.9 mb mp3 file).

Archbishop Paul Josef Cordes is the president of the Pontifical Council “Cor Unum,” which coordinates the Catholic Church’s charitable institutions. ZENIT reports on a speech the prelate delivered at a Catholic university in Italy. Archbishop Cordes has previously emphasized the importance of Christian organizations maintaining or recovering their Christian identity, but in this address he drew on Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical Deus Caritas Est to make his strongest statement yet:

“The large Church charity organizations have separated themselves from the Church and from their link with the bishops,” he said. “They have identified themselves completely with the nongovernmental organizations and have presented a program that is indistinguishable from the Red Cross or the United Nations.”

Doing this, he said, “they would be contradicting the 2,000-year history of our Church, and seriously deteriorating the credibility of its preaching.”

The archbishop evidently did not name the organizations he had in mind, but one infers from the report that his remarks had a “you-know-who-you-are” quality about them.

I was watching my favorite rerun on TV Land the other day, Bonanza. If you don’t know Bonanza, you should. It’s perhaps the classic TV western, and I was watching episode #68 from Season Three, “Springtime.”

One of Ben Cartwright’s friends, Jedidiah Milbank is injured during a roughousing mud-wrestling match between Adam, Hoss and Little Joe. As reparation Ben volunteers the three boys to take care of Milbank’s business for him. It just so happens that there are three tasks, so each of the boys gets one.

Adam Cartwright gets the final task and it is to evict a family from a ranch for non-payment. It seems that Milbank had set up an arrangement for the family to pay for half of the ranch up front, and the rest in monthly installments. Well, the family was a number of months behind, and Milbank was eager to foreclose.

The eldest Cartwright brother dutifully rides off to the ranch, and happens upon a pleasant but beleaguered clan. It seems that the family had tied up most of their capital in a prize bull, who had been mauled by a bear before it could sire more than a few calves. And all but a handful of those calves were drowned in spring floods. When the water pump broke so they could no longer irrigate their crops, the family was left without any source of revenue.

That’s the situation when Adam arrives. The pieces of the pump need to be repaired, but one necessary part must be purchased new and costs $200. The family just doesn’t have it. Instead of foreclosing on the home, Adam, who shares his father’s “strong moral code,” decides to help out the down-and-out family. They aren’t poor because of the lack of effort or work, but simply because of circumstances and poor decisions such as tying up capital in the risky move to buy the stud bull.

So what does Adam do? He helps the father fix the pieces of the well that can be repaired and comes up with a plan to use the pump to double the land that can be irrigated. This will potentially double the family’s crop, helping them to get their heads above water again. The family will need to sell the few remaining calves from the stud stock to pay for the expensive replacement part for the water pump. In the meantime, Adam loans the family the money to get current on their debt to Milbank, averting the disaster of eviction.

Why am I talking about this episode?

I believe it is a great example of how compassion can work within the capital market system. Certainly Milbank filled the role of the archetypal greedy capitalist, but the Cartwrights themselves own a 1,000 acre ranch and are incredibly wealthy by the standards of the day. The difference between Milbank and the Cartwrights is in how they used their wealth and power. By the letter of the law and justice, Milbank had a right to foreclose. By contrast, it was compassion that motivated Adam.

The Heidelberg Catechism, a traditional symbol of Reformed Christianity, notes that one of the reasons we work is so that we can be good stewards of our wealth. It reads, “I faithfully labour, so that I may be able to relieve the needy” (Q&A 111). That’s exactly what Adam Cartwright was doing with his wealth.

And he did it in such a way that it was oriented toward the family regaining their own financial independence. He loaned them part of the money, as a sort of nineteenth-century version of a micro-capital investment, but also made sure they had to invest what they had in their own future by selling the remaining calves.

There’s a lesson to be learned in all this. The United States is in an analogous situation with respect to the developing world as the Ponderosa and the Cartwrights were to that struggling family. We can choose to embody the “cowboy compassion” of the Cartwrights or the craven greed of Jedidiah Milbank.

A great way to invest in the future economic development in poorer nations is through micro-loan investment. Very often it is difficult to get reasonable long-term or even short-term capital loans in these countries, because of the volatility of the currency and government corruption (for more on banking and corruption, see these two issues of the Christian Social Thought Series: Banking, Justice and the Common Good and A Theory of Corruption).

Here are some groups that do micro-loans in developing economies that are worth checking out: Five Talents, Opportunity International, and Kiva.


I was reminded recently that Jesus repeatedly underscored the high value of seemingly very small things. The signficant results of small mustard seeds and lost coins made his parable points well but, as a mom, the story of one lost sheep made me quickly leap to the incalculable value of one lost person. On a planet of billions, many of whom live and die with scarcely any notice, Jesus says God notices … and cares. And He calls us to care.

Acton’s 2005 Samaritan Award Winner Profiles (PDF), now available online, demonstrate that large or small, effective compassion greatly values even one lost or needy person. As helpful as “best practices” from such charity programs can be, each evidences more important best principles.

Principles transcend practices, because practices are simply activities, albeit some times ones linked to impressive results. But could they be as effective in Memphis as they are in Seattle as they are in tiny Seminole, Oklahoma? That is why Acton’s Samaritan Award entry survey is based on Marvin Olasky’s 7 Principles of Effective Compassion. The manner in which an effective charity may encourage reconnecting a homeless person to family and community may look very different among programs in those three cities — quite different in demographics and culture. But any homeless program in any of those cities should operationalize this “affiliation” principle.

Dr. Olasky asks: “Does the program work through families, neighbors, and religious or community organizations, or does it supersede them?” For example, studies show that many homeless alcoholics have families, but they do not want to be with them. When homeless shelters provide food, clothing, and housing without asking hard questions, aren’t they subsidizing disaffiliation and enabling addiction? Instead of giving aid directly to homeless men, why not work on reuniting them with brothers, sisters, parents, wives, or children?

The 2005 Samaritan Award Winners represent a wide variety of social services and budgets. Some programs serve a large number of ‘lost sheep’ and some serve only a few. Yet each has demonstrated a sharp understanding and commitment to effective compassion principles. An extensive report of each may also be found at Acton’s online Samaritan Guide.

We commend them to you.