Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Christian Charity: Altruism with an Agenda?

This Christian woman I know is pretty cool. Not fanatical, belongs to a very liberal church, has no problem with my atheism, touts the good works of her mega church in which she is very active and proud. Her church has adopted a village in Africa and each year members volunteer to go, at their own expense, to help improve the infrastructure, assist with teaching, provide books, increase food production, pay for medical treatment and their new clinic, etc.

Next fall my Christian friend and her husband are going. She is trying to raise money on her blog to help finance their travel costs. I was initially a tad ambivalent. From my knowledge of Christian charitable organizations, like various “12 step programs”, “faith based” government funded organizations, even relief efforts in SE Asia after the 2004 tsunami, all of them placed religious participation at the forefront, if not making it a prerequisite for help.

So I asked, is this trip fully dedicated to material / secular health, welfare, and educational ... life improvements for the community with out any proselytizing, with no expectation of conversion from whatever indigenous belief system some may hold, and with no bible study, preaching, etc.? She explains that the local village church with whom they partner is the spiritual provider. Their presence will be devoted to hands on improving of the physical condition and secular life of the people. I accept her at her word and will make a tax deductable donation to her & her husband’s travel fund.

But other seemingly altruistic Christian charities have an ulterior motive. Conversions. They dangle the carrot in front of struggling third world people who, in a weakened state, desperate for any support, would pay any price in order to better their physical condition and those of their children. Is that what Jesus meant by ministering to the poor?

I don’t recall Jesus saying: " For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink … and all I had to do was listen to your religious spiel and divest myself of my 3000 year old culturally held indigenous belief system." But that’s exactly what many of them do.

That's what often passes for "Christian Charity". It's altruism, on THEIR terms, with a carrot and stick, a hook and an agenda. It seems to me that true altruism is its own reward. That to show humanity toward your fellow man and then thrust a condition upon it, either stated or implicit, cheapens the act. It defiles the very concept of humanity.

Today my wife and I delivered food we bought at BJ’s to the local food bank. You know what we expect in return? That fewer people go hungry. Period.

[[ to contribute to my friend Joyce’s trip to Africa please visit her blog, scroll to her posting of April 11, and contact her directly through her comments section: ]]


itsme_crazydad™ said...

The Salvation Army is big on that...hear a sermon, get some food.

Someone from my parents' church did this last year, she has had a cough EVER SINCE! Joyce, honey, get your shots and bring hand sanatizer!

Joyce said...

I'll get my shots, promise! And thanks, Drom, for your financial and emotional support. You have no idea how much that means to me and Jeff.

I put a new FAQ on my blog about how this whole South African relationship came to be and details about what we've been doing and will continue to do over there.

Thanks, Drom. You seriously rock.

DromedaryHump said...

CD: fact I originally included the Salvation Army, but was unsure of exactly how proselytizing they were as a condition for i pulled it out.

My pleasure.

Just a follow up of a personal natur:

When I went to drop off at the food bank I was chattig with the old guy in charge, who helped me unload my truck. He was very appreciative. He mentioned that they have been doing this for 30 years, buthe's never seen so many people in need as he has over the past two years. He said "there are people 'in the hills' around here who have nothing ... 'like in Appalachia'." \
I had no idea. I guess where I live I am very insullated, since most of the homes in my area and that I can see are rather expansive and expensive.

Then this young woman came in, carrying a 2 yr old and with her little son in tow. They were thin, and not dressed well. The thought of people in NH, the state with the lowest poverty rate in the country, having families who don't get enough to eat, while I stuff my face day and night... well, I damn near choked up.

Joyce said...

And because of you and others like you, they did not go hungry.

Thank you, Drom.

DromedaryHump said...

well...i think i can do more. I am meeting with the foodbank lady on weds. I want to find out if she has filed applications with / is getting help from some of the major food General Mills, Kraft foods, etc.

If not, I will undertake getting their support. they do alot of contribiutions...and maybe we can get some real help.

nuthin ventured nuthin gained.