Posts tagged with: charity

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Friday, April 17, 2009

This Sunday I’ll be giving a talk at Fountain Street Church on the life and work of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. His unfinished Ethics is a tantalizing work, full of insights and conundrums. Here’s what he writes in the essay, “On the Possibility of the Church’s Message to the World,” with regard to the church’s engagement in social justice:

Who actually says that all worldly problems should and can be solved? Perhaps to God the unsolved condition of these problems may be more important than their solution, namely, as a pointer to the human fall and to God’s redemption. Human problems are perhaps so entangled, so wrongly posed, that they are in fact really impossible to solve. (The problem of the poor and the rich can never be solved in any other way than leaving it unsolved.)

This kind of perspective flies in the face of the arrogance of so much of the contemporary transformationalist social justice movement among Christians. It allows us to see the possibility that the brokenness of the world is not meant to be solved in the end by anything other than God’s own redemptive work in Jesus Christ. It provides a boundary against any kind of post-millennial triumphalism.

One of the charities my wife and I make a point to support is Compassion International. There are a great number of things that could be said about the work of this ministry. But I want to point out a piece by Tim Glenn, Compassion International’s U.S. Advocacy Director, called “Why We Can’t End Poverty.” In this post you’ll find none of the high-handed presumption that the only thing keeping us from “making poverty history” is our political will to do so: our governments just aren’t giving enough.

Instead, Glenn discusses the end of poverty within a framework that agrees with that presented by Bonhoeffer above. “I don’t think we’re called to end poverty. I do think we’re called to be obedient to God’s command,” writes Glenn. “I think God allows poverty so that His glory may be shown … through His people doing His work … obeying that command.”

An essay of mine appears today over at the First Things website as part of their “On the Square: Observations & Contentions” feature. In “Between Market and State,” I explore the dialectic logic of market and government “failure,” which functions in part to provide us with a false dilemma: our solution to social problems must lie with either “market” or “state.”

I work out this logic in the context of the sub-prime mortgage crisis, and conclude that non-profits play a critical role as mediating institutions that are not driven in the first place by profit motives. A great deal of the economic woe of the last year or so has been the result of seeing the poor as objects of material gain rather than partners in charitable compassion. Read the piece over at the First Things site and discuss it here.

I should note that PowerBlog contributor Dr. William Luckey has provided a brief and challenging analysis of the role of non-profits. His survey of the treatment of non-profits in the literature includes the observation, “Many sources see the purposes of non-profits as taking up the slack from either market failure or government failure, thus revealing a pro-statist, anti-market bias.” The argument in my First Things essay takes the position that one purpose of non-profits is to “take up the slack,” so to speak. But I don’t see how this by definition reveals a “pro-statist, anti-market bias.”

As I say in the essay,

Advocates for government intervention abound nowadays. But apologists for the market economy do themselves and their cause no favors when they ignore the fact that there are limits to what the market can and ought to be asked to do. Indeed, much of what has been called “market failure” is actually the result of applying market-based solutions to problems for which profit considerations ought to be considered secondarily—if at all.

Within a market framework people tend to maximize efficiency and increase material well-being. But the market is not the answer for everything. It cannot tell us, for instance, how to arrange our familial or spiritual lives.

I was influenced in this line of thinking by a brief reflection from Arnold Kling, who writes about two propositions in the context of the sub-prime lending disaster: 1) Market failure is inevitable; and 2) Government failure is inevitable. He says, “In talking about the financial crisis, I believe that to speak the truth one has to accept both propositions. Most people prefer narrative, which either explicitly or implicitly denies one or the other.”

To be sure, I do think Luckey is right to call for “a completely new study of non-profit organizations,” an early attempt at which was made in the context of Acton’s own Samaritan Guide program. (With Marvin Olasky’s comment that the finalists tended to be either “rescue missions for the homeless or rehab centers for alcoholics and addicts” in view as well, see the conclusions of the promising paper, “Faith Makes a Difference: A Study of the Influence of Faith in Human Service Programs,” by Beryl Hugen, Fred De Jong, and Karen Woods.)

One non-profit ministry that I highlight in the First Things essay that is neither a homeless shelter nor a rehab center is the Inner City Christian Federation. This is a worthy organization that merits a great deal of attention in the debate about home ownership, the mortgage industry, and Christian charity.

As I also note in the First Things essay, this discussion about the credit crisis must go to our core assumptions about home ownership. A fascinating interview with Edmund Phelps, director of Columbia University’s Center on Capitalism and Society, picks up on some of these issues. Phelps has a lot of great things to say, and here’s one of them:

I’m hoping that the administration and other thought leaders will succeed eventually in bringing the country back to the older idea that the American dream is having a career, getting a job, and getting involved in it, and doing well. That was the core of the good life. That’s what we have to get back to, and get away from this mystique that the most important thing in your life that could ever happen to you is to be a home owner.

A handy chart showing the movement in trust in social institutions over the last thirty years according to the General Social Survey is available here.

Non-profits are increasingly being squeezed out between market and state, and the solutions they offer are either marginalized or subsumed under the logic of profit or coercion. As many others have noted, some recent policy initiatives, most notably lowering the limit on qualifying charitable donations, will only serve to exacerbate this problem.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, April 9, 2009

AS NYT columnist Frank Rich observed earlier this week, it’s hard to find much sympathy for Rick Wagoner. “Sure, Rick Wagoner deserved his fate,” writes Rich. “He did too little too late to save an iconic American institution from devolving into a government charity case.”

The delusions of the CEOs who lined up on Capitol Hill last year to lobby for bailouts extended beyond the arrogance of flying to congressional meetings in private jets. Duly chastened, the CEOs next made the pilgrimage in a caravan of hybrids, but still didn’t realize that some of them might be lobbying to lose their jobs.

If they had realized that in getting a government bailout they would be getting far more than they expected, they might have thought longer and harder about taking public money. I’m sure that Ford CEO Alan Mulally is happy that his company is the only one of the Big 3 that isn’t currently beholden to the whims of the federal government.

Companies who take government money are going to learn what charities who have gone on the government dole learned long ago: he who writes the checks ultimately calls the shots. In biblical parlance, “the borrower is servant to the lender.”

The fate of Rick Wagoner should be a cautionary tale to all those companies who are considering government bailouts, just as the fate of so many faith-based nonprofits serve as warnings to those who want government subsidies.

Nicholas Kristof’s Dec. 21 New York Times column was, he says, “a transparent attempt this holiday season to shame liberals into being more charitable.” He quotes Arthur Brooks’ “Who Really Cares” book which shows that conservatives give more to charity than liberals.

The upshot is that Democrats, who speak passionately about the hungry and homeless, personally fork over less money to charity than Republicans — the ones who try to cut health insurance for children.

“When I started doing research on charity,” Mr. Brooks wrote, “I expected to find that political liberals — who, I believed, genuinely cared more about others than conservatives did — would turn out to be the most privately charitable people. So when my early findings led me to the opposite conclusion, I assumed I had made some sort of technical error. I re-ran analyses. I got new data. Nothing worked. In the end, I had no option but to change my views.”

Kristof echoes Rev. Robert Sirico’s Dec. 17 Acton commentary “Why We Give” (published on Dec. 23 in the Detroit News) which also looks at Brooks’ work on giving and the deeper theological dimensions of charity.

… the tradition of gift-giving is rooted in the gift that God offers to the world in his Son who comes in the appearance of a frail babe. Likewise, the Magi, the Wise Men, who came from the East, brought the Christ-child exotic gifts to celebrate his Advent.

There is another, perhaps more practical aspect of the giving of gifts that is worth pondering which was brought to the fore by Arthur Brooks, author of the 2006 book “Who Really Cares: America’s Charity Divide – Who Gives, Who Doesn’t and Why it Matters.” Brooks investigated the American habit of giving and what he found surprised some, irritated others and confirmed some suspicions that I have had for some time. Among his findings was that the general profile of the gift-giver is one who has a strong family life and who attends church regularly.

Read more of Rev. Sirico’s column >>>

Here is quite the unique story from 13WMAZ in Macon, Georgia. The clip highlights what Army Staff Sergeant Jeremy Snow is doing to help those in need during the Christmas season. While serving in Iraq, Staff Sergeant Snow and friends from his unit have been shopping online and sending food, new clothes, and even mp3 players back to his mother, who is retired military. Margie Snow then unpacks and hands the gifts over to the local Loaves and Fishes ministry for distribution. “Everyday he calls about a different box on its way,” she says.

While the story is unique, in light of all the care packages that leave the U.S. for Iraq, it is not surprising when you consider the character of so many who serve in our Armed Forces. One of my first reactions after reading the story and watching the news video is that there is little excuse not to give after learning about Staff Sergeant Snow’s first class generosity. It is of course common knowledge that those who serve in the military do so with a modest salary, especially among the enlisted ranks.

In life, I think it’s always helpful to think about how you want to define yourself, how would you like other people to perceive you, and who would you like to emulate? Giving is one of the clearest examples I can think of that reflects your inner and outward character.

Also always deserving a mention is the United States Marine Corps Reserve and their 61 year program of bringing the joy of Christmas to needy children nationwide through their Toys for Tots Foundation. Below is a great commercial promoting their charity.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, December 15, 2008

We’re a fortnight away from the new year, and that means that you are probably getting a spate of letters, postcards, and packages appealing for your donations in this critical giving season. I want to point out a number of opportunities to help you decide where your charitable dollars ought to go.

Your first stop should always be the Acton Institute’s Samaritan Guide, a project that goes beyond the information available from the standard IRS forms that power other charity rating sites. The Samaritan Guide focuses on charities that take little or no government money and attempt to integrate faith into their works of love. You can use the Guide to focus on charities by location, type of service provided, and a variety of other factors to find one that suits the kind of work you feel called to support.

You should also keep your eye out for non-traditional ways of giving, which may make your dollar stretch further than usual. One way to integrate giving into your daily activity is by using a service like GoodSearch, which gives money to a charity of your choice every time you use their Yahoo-powered search engine. And of special note during the gift-giving season is the related GoodShop service, which partners with online merchants to shift a portion of the money you spend online to your selected charity. You can assign the Acton Institute to be your GoodSearch and GoodShop recipient by clicking here.

Other ways you can get more bang for your charitable buck is by looking for matching grant opportunities, and the Acton Institute has an incredible chance for you to double or even triple the amount of your contribution. Thanks to the generosity of a stalwart supporter, the Acton Institute has the opportunity to triple donations received from now until January 15, 2009 through a very generous 2-to-1 matching grant (for renewing supporters, the grant will match the increase from last years giving).

Please act quickly to help us leverage your contributions to the Acton Institute. To donate now via our secure online form, please click here. With your involvement, and the help of others, we can realize the full potential of this matching grant opportunity. As always, your gift will help us continue to promote a free and virtuous society. If you have any questions related to this extraordinary giving opportunity, please contact us at (616) 454-3080.

If the recent financial crisis teaches us anything, it should be the value of the institutions of civil society that depend on the charity of the people. With tools like the Samaritan Guide, you can give smarter and more effectively. But this Christmas season, be sure to give as you have been given.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, October 30, 2008


The lyrics to “Busted,” written by Harlan Howard, and made famous as performed by Johnny Cash:

My bills are all due and the babies need shoes,
But I’m Busted
Cotton’s gone down to a quarter a pound
And I’m Busted

I got a cow that’s gone dry
And a hen that won’t lay
A big stack of bills
Getting bigger each day
The county’s gonna haul my belongings away,
But I’m Busted

So I called on my brother to ask for a loan
‘Cause I was Busted
I hate to beg like a dog for a bone,
But I’m Busted

My brother said, “there’s not a thing I can do,
My wife and my kids
Are all down with the flu
And I was just thinkin’ about callin’ on you,
‘Cause I’m Busted.”

Lord, I ain’t no thief, but a man can go wrong,
When he’s Busted
The food that we canned last summer is gone,
But I’m Busted

Now the fields are all bare
And the cotton won’t grow
Me and my family’s gotta pack up and go
But I’ll make a living, just where, I don’t know
‘Cause I’m Busted

There’s a lot to think about in this 2 minute song: family, poverty, foreclosure, charity, and economic displacement.

Update: A recommendation has come my way (HT) to check out Ray Charles’ version. Here is below:




New from Acton Media, this video short titled “How Not to Help the Poor” discusses the root causes of poverty and how even the best of intentions can go wrong in dealing with and trying to help those in need.

USA Today has an excellent assessment of the impact of faith-based charities in an October 7 piece titled “Faith-based groups man the front lines.” The gist of the article points out the obvious to those who are still recovering from devastating hurricanes, and that’s that religious charities understand and are committed to the long term need of hurricane victims.

As a Katrina evacuee myself, I have witnessed the commitment and work of Christian churches and charities perform life changing assistance to victims on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. They are able to bypass bureaucracy, adding the all important human touch in not only helping rebuild totaled homes, but improve the foundation of one’s life. One of the clear contrasts of faith-based charities verse federal assistance is that it’s simply a lot less discriminating in who they can help. Additionally, they are much better equipped to make decisions on the ground or at the scene by meeting specific needs of those needing help. Instead of only saying “we can do this for you”, they can discern and meet the immediate need.

My father directed the relief efforts at his evangelical church in Pass Christian, Miss. At the church in Pass Christian they had an army of Mennonite, Amish, and evangelical volunteers from the Lancaster County area of Pennsylvania. My dad estimated their labor time consisted of a conservative estimate of $1.3 million, and they donated just over a $1 million in equipment and supplies. This is all from one community in Pennsylvania which was based out of one fairly small church on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Business leaders pitched in as well, as the employer of a construction company in that Pennsylvania community paid his workers through the relief effort.

There are thousands and thousands of inspirational stories from faith groups committed to hurricane relief efforts and this article captures just a couple of them. When you have churches and people driven and influenced by the Lord, there is literally no limit to their service and what they can accomplish. The USA Today article notes:

Shortly after the storm, [Julius] Moll was filling gas in his truck in a nearby town when a neighbor told him about Catholic Charities. The next day, Moll met with Catholic Charities officials who had set up a command post at Jean Lafitte’s Town Hall. They told him they would gut his mother’s house for free. Moll lowered his head and cried.

‘I was overwhelmed,” he says. “It’s unbelievable how people can come in and help you.’

The ninth week of the CRC’s Sea to Sea bike tour has been completed. The ninth and final leg of the journey took the bikers from St. Catharines, Ontario, to Jersey City, a total distance of 430 miles. By the end of tour, the riders had covered 3881 miles.

The “Shifting Gears” devotional contained a key biblical point in the day 57 entry. Reflecting on the separation from family members over the 9 weeks of the tour, hope was expressed that such an experience might “make us more aware of those who are constantly torn from their loved ones and remind us that the water of baptism is thicker than family blood.” As I concluded in a 2005 post, “The water of Christian baptism is thicker than the blood of natural flesh. ‘Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.’” The reality of baptism sets upon a path of service to our neighbors. This is a good point of departure for discussing questions of poverty and prosperity.

A good deal of the devotional focuses on the particularities of the experience of riding a bike. This is fitting because the text was designed for use by the riders of the poverty tour. But a few weeks ago I discussed another kind of bike rider, Pastor Bike of China, who was imprisoned because of his bicycle-based evangelism.

The good news coming out of China this week is that Pastor Bike has been released. Praise God.

My concern in following the CRC Sea to Sea bike tour over the last months has focused on the relation of material poverty to spiritual poverty. This remains an open question for me regarding the social justice advocacy of the denomination. There is a real danger that the social justice focus of the Christian Reformed Church will lapse into a post-milllenialist form of the Social Gospel.

The texts and materials of the tour itself were a bit uneven on this. In the end I think the focus is rightly aimed at divine reality. But the prudential judgments about how material poverty relates to spiritual concerns remains under-developed. When Jesus said, “The poor you will always have with you,” he was effectively saying that until he comes again we will always have to deal with the realities of sin and imperfection.

But he gave us guidance as to how to live in the midst of this sinful reality: “You can help them any time you want.” The one lesson we should take from this tour is that there is a real and pervasive Christian responsibility to give to the relief of the poor in a way that addresses both material and spiritual realities. Give thoughtfully and prayerfully. But be sure to give. For a moving testimony on this, see “Auntie Anne’s Pretzels founder cites personal faith, Bible verses as reasons to give.”