Baffled by Resistance, the Greedy and the Blessed, and That Time Jesus Said “You Tell Me.”

Most of you know that I wrote a piece last week about how the global Church could abolish extreme poverty to the ash bins of cosmic history if we only had the will.

Lots of people tweeted or liked or talked about or emailed me about that article, and I’ve been talking back to some of you on some rather personal levels.

In all of this, I think I’ll always be baffled by the Christians I know, rich by all global accounts, who refuse to do something as paltry as send a goat to Africa via WorldVision because they’re already giving to their local church and/or denomination. That’s like saying “I gave at the office,” isn’t it? Yes, yes it is.

If you had the means to buy one goat for one needy family or community for 70 dollars and you knew it could be done through a reputable, well-respected, transparent, Christian organization, why wouldn’t you do it, know matter how much you already gave at the office this week? Seriously. What’s the honest-to-God, good-enough-to-God answer?  There are none. And as long as we’re being honest, lets get real about some more numbers:  we all know a lot of people who could afford the $70 once or twice.  But if you’ve got the money, God has the crises.  Brings a new meaning to the old concept of  70 x 7, doesn’t it?

“Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?’

Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, but seventy times seven.”

“Then Rich Christians came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, how much shall I give in your name to feed and clothe and heal your children? Ten percent of of my income?’

Jesus pointed to the 17,000 children who die of hunger every day, to the billion without ready access to clean water, to the homeless, sick, and destitute. Then Jesus said ‘You tell me.’

Lord, help us.

Below is a follow-up post that should be going live on Huffington soon.

Rich, Greedy, and Blessed: God Wants to Save Us, Too
Christopher Cocca

Last week, I published a piece in this space called “Ending Poverty With Global Christianity’s Phantom Trillion,” in which I noted that the global annual income of Christians and Christian institutions worldwide exceeds $10 trillion and that a mere 10 percent of that, if given to the right kinds of direct action organizations (Christian or otherwise), could eradicate the most dangerous and preventable forms of poverty on the planet.

I’ve been very grateful for the responses I’ve received here, on Twitter and elsewhere. By and large, people in my age group (I was born in 1980) and younger are saying “amen” to idea that the time to fundamentally change the way Christians think about giving is long overdue. Folks from some of the amazing organizations I mentioned last week have tweeted or emailed their encouragement and the shared belief that we, the Church, could actually eradicate extreme global poverty if we simply had the will.

And the agreement doesn’t end with young Gen-Xers and our Gen-Y friends. Across generations, traditions, doctrinal and political differences, and other bogus barriers we so often use to keep ourselves from having to do the hard work of justice and reconciliation, many Christians understand that the time has simply come to get serious about curing the curable disease of gross inequity.

The time has simply come to say that clean water for everyone matters to us because everyone matters to God, that no child should die from mosquito bites that could have been prevented for the kind of money we don’t even bother pulling from our couches. The time has come to say that no matter what you tithe to your church or denomination, $60 to plant 10 fruit trees in a community that gravely needs them is a bargain, or that charity: water‘s $12 economic impact for every dollar given is the stuff of loaves and fishes here and now.

“But Jesus said the poor will always be with us.” I’ve heard this more than once this week. It’s one of the archetypical responses from people very much concerned with the “more spiritual” ends of the church and one of our classically tragic adventures in missing the point. I don’t believe for a second that Jesus wants anything less from us than a real commitment of our time, talent and treasure toward ending the immense human suffering and accompanying evil that gross inequality and extreme poverty breed. Do you? Is this not the same Jesus who told the rich young ruler to sell everything and give his proceeds to the poor? When will comfortable Christians realize that we’re all rich young rulers? Visit Compassion International’s Who Are The Joneses project if you don’t believe me when I say that if you can afford the device and the data plan you’re using to read this, you’re probably wealthier than at least 90 percent of the world.

“But I give through my church.” I gave at the office, too. But how good is your church or your denomination at getting money to where it’s needed most? How much of your church tithe goes to administrative expenses? How much of your special offerings for specific anti-poverty projects goes to administrative expenses? How efficient are the organs of your denomination? How much do they spend to raise every dollar? Find this information. Charity Navigator provides it for groups like World Vision (it costs them 7 cents to raise a dollar), Save The Children, Compassion International, charity: water, Children International and so on. Are your churches and your denominations more transparent and efficient than these organizations? Maybe they are, but my hunch is that they aren’t. Find out.

And look, I’m not saying stop giving money to your church. That’s important. I work in a church. I get all of that. But if you’re choosing between buying a dairy goat that might mean the difference between hunger and sustainable nourishment for a family in the Horn of Africa or the Parking Lot Fund at All Saints Mainline Evangelical Tabernacle House of God, well, the choice is clear, isn’t it? Is it? (Yes.)

The truth is that many Western Christians could give a full tithe to their churches and a full second tithe toward the eradication of extreme poverty in efficient, responsible ways without losing much of our lifestyle. Isn’t it something of a scandal that so many of us can even talk about lifestyle when so many more are barely clinging to life? (Yes.) If your tithe or double tithe knock you down a peg or two in the social strata, thank your Father in heaven for the opportunity to clothe and feed and save the lives of people you will never meet in places you will never visit with names you can’t pronounce. If bringing the Kingdom of God to earth in tangible ways isn’t a priority for wealthy Christians, what the hell is?

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in.” That’s Jesus, not Karl Marx or Nancy Pelosi. In the larger context of this quote from from the Gospel of Matthew, these things aren’t options or good ideas or lofty works. They are the brick and mortar pieces of God’s Kingdom, here and now. They are what God requires, and it’s only when I begin to think about how little we do in response that the concept of hell makes any sense to me. And it’s then I also realize the real profundity of grace, that God, in God’s stubborn Godness, wants to save us, too.

And so we have an opportunity to change the world, and an obligation. Not just we the wealthy Church, but we the mingled body of marginalized and marginalizer, we the sinners and saints, we the poor and we the poor in spirit. In the sharing of our global wealth in a global context, we find a chance for our own healing, a test of our own faithfulness, and the promise of abounding grace in the lives we touch and the lives that touch us back.

It’s almost too much, isn’t it, this concept that we will be blessed by our giving? We should do the work we’re called to because we’re called to do it, yes, but on a more basic level, we should do it because it’s right. I’m almost ashamed to say that we the wealthy can find our own strains of redemption in the sharing of our wealth when our relative greed has rendered us so basically undeserving.

But powerful as we may be, we’re thankfully not the masters of God’s economy. In God’s stubborn system, God calls us from the brink with faithful service to the people God is most concerned with serving. It’s almost absurd, isn’t it, that this grace is there for we the wealthy, too? Absurd and foolish? Yes, the Gospel in a nutshell: radical grace, radical service, radical absurdity from the vantage of political, social and economic systems that keep failing. And a radical dependence on the terms of God’s radical provision.

Lord, help us.

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9 comments

  1. You post is great in that it gets us thinking about what we are doing and forces us to examine if we can do more.
    Two points if I may play devil’s advocate (and forgive me if these points have been explored)
    1. How do you know how much Christians are giving now? I know I don’t check a “religious preference” box when I donate. How do you know they aren’t giving 25 or 30% to needy world charities? Do you know exactly how much is given to World Vision by Christians? 40% of their funding comes from private donations, but do we know how many are Christians? (I was taught not to “give and tell”)
    2. The difference between Jesus and Nancy P and Karl is that Jesus says you “should choose” to give and the other two say “you have to ” give. Big difference.
    3. “…. a mere 10 percent of that, if given to the right kinds of direct action organizations (Christian or otherwise), could eradicate the most dangerous and preventable forms of poverty on the planet.” Is that 10% every year? or a one time shot?

    I love the idea that ending world poverty is possible. It’s a great motivator, and we all need motivation. If your post got us to re-examine our giving habits, that would do wonders to increase the level of donations.
    We could all be like Mother Teresa who owned nothing and devoted her life to the poor and hungry, but that’s just not realistic. But what she does, and what this post can do, is get us to think and make the right choice.

    You’ve given more than money in your post because you have taken the time to reach many and make a difference.

    I also like you idea to check out charities before they give. I like to scan the internet as well as Charity Navigator for reliable sources of info. (that’s “reliable sources”)
    Thanks for taking the time to write this post!

  2. “The truth is that many Western Christians could give a full tithe to their churches and a full second tithe toward the eradication of extreme poverty in efficient, responsible ways without losing much of our lifestyle.” – I could not agree with this statement more.

    For some reason, just because, as Christians, we are required to give a tithe (10%) of our income back to God does not mean that we are not able to give another 10% (or more) of our income to those who have needs that we will never understand, simply because we were fortunate enough to be born in the countries that we have been.

    The reason that we give our tithe back to God is to thank Him for blessing us with what belongs to Him anyway, and to show that we are putting our trust in Him; why can the Church not reciprocate that blessing back to those whom God has charged us to take care of? For some reason, many Christians feel as though they have done enough when they give back their tithe to the church; perhaps they have. Maybe I’m being too judgmental here, but I don’t understand how members of the Church can go on ignoring the needs of orphans, widows, etc.

    After all, if we are indeed the Body of Christ, how can we ignore the fact that parts of the Body are sick and in need of care?

    Once again, excellent article, Chris.

    1. Thank you.

      I’m with you, and the more I think about these things, the more vexed I get and the more I feel like we’re not being too judgmental. I gave a gift to WorldVision last week as a tithe of my first paycheck of my new job as Director of Mission at FPCA. I couldn’t wait to get my second check so I could do it again. That’s not because I’m amazing and overly generous…or even because I understand that I have a duty to do it…it’s because doing the right thing and helping people (making real differences in the sustainability of their actual lives) is really, really exciting precisely because it’s really, really right. Doing the right thing doesn’t always feel exciting, but maybe if doing things to the best of our ability in the way and because of the call of Jesus, well, then, maybe they will. Maybe that’s John 10:10. Thank you as always for your comments.

      1. Many people have a desire to hold onto their money and feel as though it is what will make them content and joyful; however, doing just the opposite is what ignites such feelings. It is good to give all that is required and asked of us, yes, but it is truly exciting to go above and beyond as we will then be acting and living as Christ has intended. We should give more than we feel that we can afford; more than what is “reasonable” for our situation in life; more than than what makes us comfortable; more than what is satisfactory.

        I think that C.S. Lewis said it best in Mere Christianity when he said that we should, “Give until it hurts, and then give some more”.

  3. great article! there is a movement…a growing movement…and I am thankful to God for it. Thanks for contributing your voice.

  4. When I read articles like this one that are challenging, provoking, and lifestyle-altering, my heart jumps inside of me with a resounding amen.

    In my excitement, I’m tempted to forward posts like this to my Christian friends who don’t care about global poverty in hopes that they’ll just change their behavior and start giving. Then, realizing that hardly ever works, I start thinking about the underlying mindsets that keep us from opening up our wallets and buying some freakin’ fruit trees.

    And, as much as I’m all gung ho for action, I can’t help but dwell on the reality that BEFORE I started caring about ending global poverty, building wells, and preventing malaria with mosquito nets, that God made me a new person by changing my fundamental nature from being me-focused to other-focused.

    If our hearts are so hard that we (Christians!) make up excuses to not give so we can cling to our materialism then yes, we really do need the Lord to help us.

    We need the Lord to help us see the bigger picture of eternity. We need the Lord to help us experience his heart for the oppressed, brokenhearted, and forgotten. We need the Lord to help us by showing us that we are rich young rulers….and that the idolatrous clinging we have to our bank accounts deep within our hearts needs to be nailed to the cross of Christ.

    Yes, Lord, help us.

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