Why Donate There, and not Here?

In response to my last post, I had a very legitimate question asked: Why donate to World Vision, presumably overseas, when there are so many people in America that are in need?

(My response ended up being longer than most of my posts, so I decided to make it its own post. I thought it would be easier to read that way. I’ll say right up front that Laura Tremaine has already said all this better than I can).

First, you can have it both ways. There are several World Vision operations within the United States. For example, this entire section deals with US-based needs: school supplies, food, general toiletries and necessities. And there’s no conflict between supporting local charities and international ones.

But I don’t want to dodge the question. The bottom line is, $500 is not a life-changing amount of money in the U.S. Not for anyone. But it is life-changing for people in Sri Lanka, Sierra Leone, or Uzbekistan, where it represents four months’ wages for the average worker … and the aid often goes to those who are not average, but in the greatest need.

Through an operation like World Vision, $500 can be the difference between clean water and contaminated water (Americans don’t have to worry about their children dying because they drank unsanitary water and contracted cholera), education and child labor (Americans don’t work full-time at age 8) or even child marriage or slavery. Here, $500 is nice. It’s a decent laptop, an iPad, or a couple of semester’s worth of college textbooks. There, it’s enough to change lives.

The magnitude of impact of a limited sum of money is so much greater where the need is greater, that it just makes sense. I don’t think, from a Christian perspective, that Americans have more intrinsic value than people in other nations.

And the need is so much greater there. We live in a fairly well-developed welfare state, one where emergency rooms have to treat anyone who comes in, regardless of ability to pay. One where WIC gives food to pregnant mothers and mothers with children. One where food stamps and unemployment insurance and social security and medicare and medicaid all provide a certain level of mandated support.

Yes, life is hard at that level, but there is clean water, free and mandatory public schooling for children, prohibitions on child labor, no significant threat of malaria or cholera, and food available. “Hunger,” as defined in the United States, is nothing like the life-and-death starvation that faces many of the poorest of the poor in developing nations. It’s a cliche, but it’s worth noticing: in America, the poor are disproportionately obese, not rail-thin.

The impact is greatest where the need is greatest. And that’s there, not here.

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Matching Gifts (Putting My Money Where My Mouth Is)

Wordle: Double
Okay, here’s the deal. I recently came into a little money, and I feel called to give $500 of it to World Vision (in the form of one-time gifts like medicine, livestock, school supplies, etc.).

I’m not 100% sure what I should spend the money on, though. The last time I had some money to spend, I bought a donkey. I’m not as clear right now.

Then it came to me. I should let you decide. So I’m going to put my money where my (virtual) mouth is. I’m going to match the first $500 in gifts to World Vision that y’all give. Just comment or message me and tell me what you gave, and I’ll match it.

For example, if you go to “Gifts the Multiply” where big sponsors have already multiple-matched gifts (up to 12X), and  give $420 worth of medicine for $35, I will duplicate that, giving $35 to buy another $420 worth of medicine.

And yes, if you buy a donkey, I’ll buy a second donkey.

I’ve got $500 to do this with, so if you ‘go over the top’ (say, I’ve given $450 and have only $50 left, and someone buys a $225 donkey), I won’t be able to match your whole gift, but you’ll get to tell me what to do with the remaining money.

Four Types of Violence, Part Five: Some Parting Thoughts

Peace Sign made of garlic, photo by David Goehring, Creative Commons

Good for the World, Good on Spaghetti
Photo by David Goehring, Creative Commons

I’ve been talking about violence a lot lately, and I think it’s time to bring it to a close now.  Kurt Willems has a great series here outlining a powerful argument for total pacifism among Christians.  Needless to say, there are other interpretations.  MT at Biblical Self Defense  discusses several OT and NT passages that relate to self defense, including armed self-defense, as not just a necessary evil, but a positive good.

Though I have not yet been swayed to the point of actual pacifism, I have to say that Kurt Willems’ arguments have profoundly affected me. He’s helped me to reassess my overall attitude towards violence done in my name as an American, the violence in the media that I consume, and the violence in the culture that I create.

And let’s face it, our American culture is awash in violence. We glorify revenge at every turn. Even as Christians, if you look at the time we spend watching violent films and TV, we probably glorify “good guys killing bad guys” more than we glorify God.

So what is the answer? I’m afraid I don’t have the whole answer. I may never have it. But I’ll keep wrestling with it. I know this much for sure:

Even without being convinced of true pacifism, the kind that would not use force to resist a home invader who threatens my pregnant wife, the kind that would not use force to resist the Nazis in World War II – even without taking that (admittedly radical) step … I can commit to pursuing peace today, through:

  • Questioning the violent actions my government takes, whether declared wars or unilateral (even unmanned) actions
  • Questioning the level of violence used in our justice system, especially against peaceful protesters and nonviolent offenders
  • Questioning the violence that is allowed to happen by authorities turning a blind eye or simply being overwhelmed: bullying in schools, beatings and rape in prisons.
  • Turning the other cheek in personal disputes, refusing to use even verbal ‘violence’
  • Protesting verbal violence, especially misogynist and racist bullying
  • Valuing the lives of foreigners in distant nations as much as I do my own, especially if they are civilians
  • Examining the culture I consume and create, and expunging anything that glorifies violence as a positive good.

Four Types of Violence, Part Four: Self-Defense

What I’ve said so far is pretty non-controversial.  Nobody, religious or not, really thinks it’s okay to kill someone for the insurance money, or hunt down and kill someone instead of pressing charges at the police station, or forcibly convert someone (at least nominally) to your religion or point of view.

It’s possible to get so caught up in your nation’s patriotism and propaganda that you miss the fact that a war is primarily about conquest (securing national interests, or, to be cynical, “oil”) as opposed to the official line, which says it’s vital to defend us all from harm.

That’s a failure of discernment, and a dangerous one, but it doesn’t mean people who feel that way actually believe wars of conquest are okay.  A few might, but most do not.

The last type of violence, however, gets the juices flowing.  It’s the difference between just war and pacifism, between the Baptists and Anabaptists.

Self-Defense:  Defensive violence sees an attack in progress and steps in to stop it.

  • It could be a person breaking into a house during the middle of the night, when it’s obvious the owners are home.
  • It could be an invasion by another country.
  • It could be a genocide that merits a peacekeeping action by the U.N. or a coalition of nations.
  • It could be a woman accosted on a city street.
  • It could be World War II.

This is where the rubber meets the road.  Do you raise your hand to fight back, or do you stand on principle and allow yourself (or a third party, such as a crime victim or ethnic group facing genocide) to be slaughtered?

It sounds like an easy answer, but the truth is, it’s not.  Jesus talks a lot about peacemakers, about non-aggression, as does the apostle Paul.

And the truth is, just about any war can be justified as a defensive action if the government works hard enough to manipulate public sentiment (or even presents misinformation, such as in the Gulf of Tonkin or U.S.S. Maine incidents).

If “Just War Theory” doesn’t effectively prevent (or at least condemn) any of the many wars the U.S. keeps finding itself in, what it’s good for? 

Amputations, Spiritual and Marital (an Analogy)

Prosthetic Arm

I think I may not have written clearly enough in my last post, and some of my point may have been lost. So let me try again.

Too often in the church today we focus on condemning “sin,” which in large part means condemning people after things go off the rails. But we need to be more open, sensitive, and helpful to each other so we can keep each other from getting into desperate situations.

I’ll address divorce again, using C.S. Lewis’s metaphor of amputation. Though I’ve never gone through a divorce, the thought of separating from Katherine is  horrible –  I’d rather lose an arm.

The thought of things getting so bad between us that severing our lives seems like an improvement? That’s horrifying.

Malachi 2:16 flat-out says that God hates divorce. That makes sense. He’s the Great Physician, and what doctor likes to perform amputations? Amputations are only indicated when injury or infection is so terrible that it threatens the life of the body.

Shouldn’t we, as a church, be washing each others’ wounds? Shouldn’t we be installing guard rails on the dangerous machinery? Shouldn’t we be doing all we can to prevent these amputations, instead of preaching condemnation at one-armed men and women?

I think so. But during my married life, I’ve never been a member of, or even a regular attender of, a church that provided active support for married couples.

One church, First Baptist Byram, did at least offer Financial Peace University. Though it wasn’t specifically aimed at “marriage support,” it does help people (or couples) come to terms with their finances, which are one of the top (if not the #1) causes of conflict and divorce.

But as much emphasis as the church puts on families and marriage, I just haven’t seen much on actually working to strengthen existing marriages.

But if we hate divorce as God does, shouldn’t we be working to prevent it?

Shouldn’t those of us who’ve been happily married for many years offer ourselves (without being pushy) as willing listeners to those who are newly married, or who are having troubles?

Shouldn’t we offer classes that focus on issues that come up? Or if the church is too small for that, shouldn’t we at least suggest books (like The Total Money Makeover and The Five Love Languages) and resources on the community or association/diocese level?

Shouldn’t we try to be proactive?

Of course, that would require us to be more honest with each other, and to create an environment in which people feel comfortable talking about their hard times and shortfalls, without fearing condemnation.

But that’s a problem for another post.

 

Motes, Beams, and First-Century Divorce

Wedding Rings, Photo by Jeff Belmonte, Creative Commons

Photo by Jeff Belmonte, Creative Commons

There’s a  certain type of “following the rules” morality that we often cling to, a kind that makes us feel good and holy. It’s the kind that looks at other people’s problems. It’s the kind that looks at their motes, and misses our beams.

It orders/asks of those who are being crushed by the rules to be willing to suffer for what is right. But it does not, on a daily basis, require the majority to set up an environment where the rules can be followed without crushing anyone. It asks the world of “them,” but nothing of “us.”

Let me give you an example. Some churches have a strong anti-divorce rule (this was more common in the past than today – J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis had their famous falling out because Lewis married a divorced woman). However, this usually ends up being (in practice)

  • “If you got married, and things are horrible, you have to just bear it, because divorce is BAD,” or
  • “If you do have to get divorced, you can never remarry, because that would make you an adulterer,” or
  • “If you divorce and remarry (or in some cases even just divorce), you’re no longer welcome in our church, because that’s a special type of sin that’s worse than the ones we good upstanding Christians do.”

Rarely does it mean: “We, as a community of believers, will take responsibility for teaching and modeling good marriage communication, helping couples work out problems, teaching and modeling financial planning and responsibility (since money troubles are the #1 cause of divorce) and even supporting couples emotionally and financially when they fall on hard times.  We believe marriage is sacred, and want to protect it.”

Look, we all know divorce IS bad.  Ask anyone who’s gone through one, or whose parents have gone through one.  It isn’t fun to sever your life from someone, to go to court and fight over who gets what, to have your years together reduced to bickering lawyers.

C.S. Lewis compared divorce to amputation: sometimes necessary, but never good news.

Nobody gets pulled into divorce by how awesome the process is; they get pushed into divorce by how awful their marriage has become.  And sometimes it’s not because the people, or even one of the people, in the marriage, is awful. Sometimes the people are basically trying to do good, but the relationship itself has been poisoned past the point of rescue.

The worst part comes when church leaders, writers, and culture warriors take a statement that protected women and use it to trap women in abusive relationships. They’ve taken Jesus’ intent and inverted it.

I know several divorced and remarried people. Their relationships are not the same as people caught up in adultery. Am I saying that Jesus was wrong? Hardly. When he spoke, in the first century, he was 100% right. But marriage has radically changed since then, and so has divorce.

In first-century Israel, men could divorce women pretty easily, but the reverse was not true. It was difficult, but not impossible, for women to obtain divorces. This was, in part, because of a debate between two great rabbis, Hillel and Shammai over whether a man could divorce only for immorality or for “any cause.”

Further, there was no such thing as a career woman back then. A women from a well-to-do family who brought a significant dowry into the marriage would be able to take some or all of that dowry out, live on it, and likely even remarry.

But a woman of lesser means? A small dowry means less to live on and less chance of being chosen for marriage as compared to a virgin. She could easily end up begging, starving, or being sold into slavery. To divorce a woman without an extreme reason (such as adultery) was capricious and cruel.

Further, it was emblematic of the way the “righteous, respectable” religious men of Jesus’ day obeyed the letter of the law while still exploiting and oppressing the poor and vulnerable (I’ll leave any comparisons to today’s “righteous, respectable” folk to the reader’s imagination). Jesus wouldn’t let them call such a thing righteous.

At no point was it about trapping abused women in a domestic cage with the men who are beating and torturing them.

Just telling people who are in terrible marriages that they’re out of luck is passing the buck.  We are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers.  We don’t get to put the hard decisions off on someone else, then sit around acting righteous. Especially when we do so little to help prevent these problems.

It’s a false morality, and it’s not fooling anybody. The eyes of the world see right through it. It brings shame on the church, and damages the reputation of God.

The Danger of Being Right, Part 1

One of the worst temptations I’ve ever had to fight was the temptation of being right.  Let me explain.

 

When I’m right, when I really, truly believe I’m right, I am without doubt.

When I am without doubt, I stop asking questions.

When I stop asking questions, I start telling other people the answers.

When I start telling other people the answers, I argue with the ones that disagree with me.

When I argue with the ones that disagree with me, I really want to win the argument.

When I really want to win the argument (for Jesus!) I pull no punches.

When I pull no punches, I hurt people and bring shame to the cause of Christ.

 

And that’s why it’s dangerous to be right.

Chick-Fil-A day?  A great day for “freedom of speech,” but a bad day to be gay in America, and a terrible day for anyone who actually wants to bring gay people into the Church.  You want uglier examples?  The Crusades.  Slavery.  Manifest Destiny.  Guantanamo Bay.

Show me one place where Jesus or the apostles operated like this.  Well, Paul did, but back then, they called him Saul.  But one encounter on the road to Damascus changed all that.  When we’re right, and we really know it, we’ll roll over anybody who stands in our way, and we’ll do it in the name of Jesus.

Because if we’re right, and they’re not just like us, they’re wrong.  And if they’re wrong, then we have to defeat them.   And if we have to defeat them, we need to take the gloves off.  And when we take the gloves off, we hurt people and bring shame to the cause of Christ, whether it’s Guantanamo Bay, Chick-Fil-A, or arguing on Facebook.

Doubt is our friend.  Not doubt of Jesus’s resurrection, or God’s love and grace, but doubt of ourselves, doubt of our own rightness, our own righteousness.  After all, didn’t the prophet Isaiah say our righteousness is nothing but filthy rags?