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.