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America's Charity Divide

  • Chuck Colson Chairman of Prison Fellowship Ministries
  • 2007 1 Jan
  • COMMENTS
America's Charity Divide

Are conservatives and Christians becoming too narrow and selfish? Are we hypocritical skinflints, indifferent to the suffering of the needy?

The liberals say so. But is it true? Do conservatives and Christians really love their money more than they do the poor?

A new book by an expert on charity says: absolutely not. The real skinflints, he writes, are secular liberals.

Arthur Brooks, professor at Syracuse University, writes in his new book, titled Who Really Cares, that he grew up in a liberal home and accepted one of the liberal political nostrums: that the political left "is compassionate and charitable toward the less fortunate, but the political right is oblivious to suffering."

"If you had asked me a few years ago to sum up the character of American conservatives," he writes, "I would have said they were hard-headed pragmatists who were willing to throw your grandmother out into the snow to preserve some weird ideal of self-reliance."

But his own research forced him to change his mind. Religious conservatives give more, and do more, for the poor than anyone else. By contrast, liberals, who tend both to be irreligious and to believe that government can and should redistribute income, tend to be far stingier.

Brooks invites us to consider two people: one who goes to church every week and rejects the idea that it's the government's job to redistribute income. The second person never attends church and believes the government should reduce income differences. "Knowing only these [two] things," Brooks writes, "the data tell us that the first person will be roughly twice as likely as the second to give money to charities in a given year, and will give away more than one hundred times as much money per year"—that's right, one hundred times—and give it to both religious and non-religious causes.

This should be obvious when you think about it, because there are vastly different worldviews at work here. Christians are guided by revealed truth and the wisdom of the past—what's often called the democracy of the dead. And we recognize original sin as the fundamental state of human nature, and so we are distrustful of big institutions. Moreover, Christians believe that they have a personal duty to help the poor, because the Bible commands it and because we understand that society's problems are morally rooted and, thus, more likely to need moral solutions. So, we are involved in creating what Edmund Burke called the "little platoons" of society: organizations devoted to feeding the hungry, freeing slaves, and helping those in prison.

By contrast, the secular liberal rejects the idea of original sin. He believes that with the right education and enough money, the lot of humanity can be improved. So liberals believe that, with their superior wisdom, they can create utopia—just give them the power—which is why they believe in big-government solutions to society's problems, solutions that we now know have done more harm than good.

This is why, the next time you hear someone berating conservative Christians for being skinflints and those "narrow-minded bigots," use it as a double-edged opportunity: It's the Christians, tell them, who are giving more than the non-Christians. And then explain why: It's because we worship a God who tells us that we should "abide in faith, hope, and charity, these three—but the greatest of these is charity."

Copyright © 2007 Prison Fellowship

BreakPoint with Chuck Colson is a daily commentary on news and trends from a Christian perspective. Heard on more than 1000 radio outlets nationwide, BreakPoint transcripts are also available on the Internet. BreakPoint is a production of The Wilberforce Forum, a division of Prison Fellowship: 1856 Old Reston Avenue, Reston, VA 20190.