One of the more startling things to me during 2007 was the discovery that evangelicals give much more to charity than liberals do. This came from my favorite book about faith approaches to combating poverty in the world, “Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger”, by Ron Sider.
After hanging out with liberals (both ideological and religious), as a Seattleite is bound to do, I had been led to expect that liberals of both kinds give more. Liberals tend to think quite highly of their capacity for compassion and insight into world affairs, and presume that translates into also being more generous. That’s obviously not true. How can that be?
Let’s presume for a moment (whether or not it is actually true) that liberals actually are more aware of world affairs and more sympathetic towards poor people and less likely to see poverty as the result of one’s own choices. Why would liberals still give less to charity?
1. With the changes in theology, “liberal” Quakers seem to have loosened our expectation that God interevenes to transform the world. Because our compassion isn’t accompanied by trust in God’s transforming action in the world, we think change depends on us. That is a heavy burden, and yes, our liberal spirits are often heavy! Have you ever felt more discouraged about the world after being with liberal Quakers?
2. Because we think achieving economic justice all depends on us, it can be hard to forgive ourselves and others when a mistake is made. So much is at stake that we can find it pretty hard to be charitable with each other. After all, people’s lives depend on our intervention!
3. At least among Quakers, great numbers of liberals are in the helping professions (or retired). We are chaplains, social workers, counselors, teachers, writers, or work for non-profits. We are a little bit proud of our efforts and don’t have much energy when Sunday comes around for doing even more – we suffer a bit from compassion fatigue when we come to Meeting/church. The last thing we want to do is hear about the ills of the world or do more of the things we do Monday through Friday. Perhaps all we really want is to pat ourselves on the back a little bit and then rest a little bit in the silence?
4. Liberals tend to think that it is important to be critical of authority and question leadership. Perhaps we are so diligent in questioning people who take on leadership that we inadvertently discourage anyone from taking the intitative? How often do you hear someone be praised in a liberal setting? And criticized?
5. Because we like our own thinking capacity and feel so insightful, we like to analyse and understand. Criticizing others is an easy way to get to feeling superior, and we liberals do love that feeling of superiority!
6. The concept of “sin” has fallen out of favor among liberals. Unfortunately, when the concept of sin disappears, forgiveness is likely to disappear, too. After all, no-one has done anything wrong, right? So in our liberal environment it’s pretty risky to take the initiative to act. Perhaps we suspect that if we accidentally did something wrong, we wouldn’t be received with much grace and understanding?
All of these things, in my experience, contribute to passivity and lack of generosity in some of the Quaker Meetings I have known. The antidote to all of these things is in my experience, once again, to steep ourselves in awareness of God’s abundance
Queries for prayerful consideration:
What blocks generosity in my church community? What is the antidote?