An open letter to our Global South neighbors:
In spite of all you may have heard to the contrary, we Americans really do give very liberally. Many of us even outdo the poor widow in the Bible who offers up her last penny. In fact, we often give so far beyond our last penny that we have to max out our Visa cards in order to keep up our rate of giving.
Unfortunately, not much of that generosity benefits charities or our local churches. In the latter department, we Christians north of the Rio Grande contribute an average of only about 3% of our incomes. And of that money, usually well over one-half goes for things like air conditioning, heating, maintenance and mortgage costs for the buildings in which we worship and fellowship (that's for about two hours a week unless we’re on one of our weekend vacations), and to cover the salaries of those we hire to care for, lead and teach members of our own congregations. So we hope this explains why so little of our 3% charitable giving can actually go to meet the needs of the poor in our communities or those to the south of us.
To be honest, the bulk of our really cheerful giving is done at places like Wal-Mart, K-Mart and the nearby Quick-Mart. We do love to shop, and tend to give most generously for things like pet food, snack food, junk food, convenience food and for the array of fine foods available at our favorite delis and restaurants, much of it imported from countries like yours where labor is cheap (thanks for that, by the way). And we also contribute large sums to the automobile and oil industries, so that we now have more licensed vehicles to fuel and maintain than we have licensed drivers to drive them. In addition, we willingly give more and more of our incomes to banks and furniture outlet stores for our ever larger and more comfortably furnished homes.
You might wonder, Does all of this giving reflect our real values?
Actually, yes. Each time any of us gives another offering at yet another cash register, we are saying that, at that moment at least, we consider that product or service well worth the investment. In the same way, when it comes to offering our gifts to God, as an expression of our love for our Creator and for our neighbors, we are also stating, quite specifically, the actual dollar value that represents for us.
You may wonder if we are ever bothered by where all our money goes, and how quickly it's gone. Or that every year, most of us in the US contribute far more to our nation’s military budget than we do to our church’s missionary budget.
I'll admit we do feel a little bothered now and then, living as we do in one of the wealthiest and most heavily armed countries in the world. And yet, for whatever reason, God, unlike our local and national governments, doesn’t actually force any tribute from us, like through some Eternal Revenue Service. Is that a great religion or what?
So what do you think you would you do if you were in our very privileged shoes?