How do I judge my Charity?

How do I judge my Charity?

In a world with so much suffering, so much pain, and so much grief, it is easy to become overwhelmed.

But some folks push through.  They push through the paralysis of panic, and look for ways to help their fellow man.  You’ve been tempted with this phenomena.  You may not realize it, but you have been.  How do I know?  Because you’ve seen the panhandler with outstretched fist asking for spare change.  You’ve seen the TV ad explaining how you can feed a child for less than the cost of a cup of coffee.  You’ve watched someone you know, or heard the story of a friend of a friend that was in need of money.

This post is not about the reality of whether you ‘gave’ or not.  (Personally, I hope you were compelled to ‘give’).
But rather this post is about the more metaphysical question of whether you ‘should give’ or not.
Did you know that giving can hurt?  Have you ever read the stories of individuals and communities who suffered greatly because of good intentions, but misdirected actions?  If you haven’t, I’d suggest that you check out either: (1) When Helping Hurts by Corbett and Fikkert or (2) Toxic Charity by Lupton.  Both should be available from your neighborhood Christian bookstore.
Surprised to hear that ‘Christian’ authors would debate ‘how’ we show love to our fellow man?  You shouldn’t be.  You only need to look as far the parable of the widow’s mite (Mark 12 or Luke 21) to see that all ‘giving’ isn’t created equal.  To know the difference between proper giving and improper giving, one needs to examine not the amount, but rather the motivation.  Giving from a happy heart (2 Corinthians), giving away what you need yourself (widow’s mite), and giving without any expectation of reward (Matthew 6) are some of the hallmarks of Christian charity.
For myself, when I am alone and considering an act of charity I reference primum non nocere.  Do you know the phrase?  In English its something like, “first, do no harm.”  Does it seem strange that I would hold to the belief that a Christian should consider ‘no action’ or ‘inaction’ as appropriate responses to requests for charity?  To clarify, its not because I have a lack of faith in the ability of the Creator of the Universe to direct my actions in proper ways (God can always bring good from my evil).  Rather, its because I believe that I am called to be a good steward of the blessings I have received as a member of a corporate body.  I am called to use my blessings to be a blessing (Proverbs 11).  And I am called to be a member of the Church (1 Corinthians).
On a daily basis I witness opportunities to be a blessing.  And I make a conscience decision to intentionally consider each.  There are times when the Spirit moves me to place money in the hand of the beggar, to sign up for a meal program for an overseas mission, or to join a movement such as Common Change.  And there are times when the Spirit causes me to pause.  For me, the starting point for, ‘how to judge my charity’ is prayer.  And the second place I look is to be a participant in charity in fellowship with other Christians.  There is wisdom in praying with others to discern God’s will in your acts of charity.
Part of the power of Common Change is that it links us as individuals into a community of like-minded individuals who are collectively interested in practicing the notion, “I am blessed to be a blessing,” and “and all the members of the body, though many, are one body”. As you journey towards maturity in your faith, I encourage you to grow in community and prayerfully consider how to be a part of the charity of the Church.

Brett Anderson

Brett "Fish" Anderson from South Africa (the country) is passionate about seeing the church live out what it says it believe in all areas of life. He is married to the beautiful Val (tbV) and hates raiSINs with a different kind of passion.
  • http://www.mst.edu/~oertherd Daniel Oerther

    Some folks have asked, can you give me a concrete example of toxic charity (reading a whole book seems like a lot to learn the concept.). Alright, here goes…
    The buy one give one approach for TOMS shoes is an example of something I consider to be dangerous. The motivation is great – to help those who don’t have shoes. Awesome! The danger is that when I purchase a pair a shoes… TOMS is giving a pair of shoes manufactured outside of the economic environment to a local villager. This approach damages the local shoe industry and creates a bigger damage on the environment by fueling the global manufacturing chain… Think local is better than global. So, to help you get an idea for what I’m saying, here’s a related (short) news piece, and a YouTube video of some of my students learning this first hand within India. Peace!
    http://www.pri.org/stories/2013-10-08/toms-shoes-rethinks-its-buy-one-give-one-model-helping-needy
    http://youtu.be/Z5y7q7NAme4