Just For the Record

Ask a non-Christian neighbor why he doesn't go to church, and what's he most likely to say? Oh, they're just a bunch of hypocrites in there. Fakes. They act pious in church but it isn't real. And money--churches always hit people up for money. Greedy TV evangelists defrauding little old ladies of their last dollar. The charges make for colorful diatribes against the church. There's only one problem: They don't fit the facts. The facts are that Christians do put their money where their mouth is. A recent survey shows that believers give more money to help the poor than nonbelievers do. The survey is reported in a book called Faith and Philanthropy. Listen to these facts. On average, the survey found, local congregations spend nearly half their funds and time on services to human need. Now you know where your money goes when you put it in the offering plate. Unlike the funds the government takes out of your paycheck for welfare, this money is not devoured by some voracious bureaucracy. And maybe that's why, for the past thirty years, half--that's half--of all charitable giving in the United States has come from people who gave in the name of religion. That's counting all forms of charity: religious and secular. Most of the money given to secular charities--like the Red Cross and United Way--comes from religious believers, who give to religious charities as well. Another fact: The more religious a person is, the more likely he is to be generous. People who attend church frequently are three to four times more generous in their giving than are people who attend church infrequently or not at all. And here's something unexpected: Poor Christians give a larger percentage of their income than do rich Christians. Of course, charity is not just a matter of money. What about the gift of time and energy? Here, too, believers outdo their nonbelieving neighbors. The survey found that members of churches and synagogues are 50 percent more likely than nonmembers to volunteer their time to charitable activities and community service. One hundred fifty years ago, a Frenchman named Alexis de Tocqueville travelled through the United States and wrote down his observations of American culture. Compared to Europeans, Tocqueville wrote, Americans have a strong sense of individualism. But it is balanced by a uniquely American habit of joining together in voluntary associations to serve some common good. The voluntary associations Tocqueville observed were mostly churches and Christian charities. In our own day many people seem reluctant to acknowledge the positive role Christians play in society. Secularists don't like to admit that religion is good for American culture. But Faith and Philanthropy shows that religion does have a positive impact on society. It is an empirical fact: Charity in American has strong religious roots. Secular leaders may not like that. They may argue that people don't have to be religious to be generous and kind. But the historical fact is that religious faith has always been the major spur to helping the poor. No secular moral tradition has been able to influence people in the same way. So let's not hear any more about how the church is just a bunch of hypocrites. It may be a common excuse why people avoid church. But it just isn't a fact.


Chuck Colson


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