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Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Stingy Christians


Not quite sure how I came across it but Ron Sider (he of Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger) has reviewed a new book called Passing the Plate for Christianity Today.

The book is a study of giving in American Christianity and it doesn't make for encouraging reading. Here are some headline numbers for you:
  1. If just the 'committed Christians' tithed an extra $46 billion a year could be released
  2. 20% of all American Christians give precisely NOTHING
  3. 10% of evangelicals give NOTHING
  4. The average across all forms of American Christianity is 2.9%
  5. 20% of Christians give 86.4% of the total money
  6. The most generous 5% give over half the total (59.6%)
  7. The MORE you earn the SMALLER the percentage you give
Here are some of the observations that Sider notes,
"In addition, the widespread consumerism and materialism of the culture—expressed above all in our incessant advertising—seduces many people into making extravagant decisions about major purchases like houses and cars and smaller things like recreation, eating out, vacations, etc.; and the result is that most families are financially pressed in spite of enormous wealth."
This paragraph (I should just copy the whole thing) is spot on
"They think there are five primary reasons for the fact that "the wealthiest national body of Christian believers at any time in all of church history end up spending most of their money on themselves." The most important is our society's 'institutionalized mass consumerism.' The second is the failure of pastors to deal with the issue. The third is that many Christians seem to be confused about the meanings, expectations, and purposes of faithful Christian giving. Fourth, some have distrust about whether their donations will be used wisely. Finally, the near total privatization of the topic means that almost no American Christians discuss their giving with anyone else."
I don't think there's any room for self-righteousness this side of the pond, we can't claim to be any less affected by consumerism and the seductions of wealth. I'd be surprised if the statistics (if ever done) were much different here and for that we should be ashamed. What we give and what we keep is a reflection of our priorities and it seems for too many of us, too often - neither the church nor mission, Jesus or the poor feature on our priorities. We give little because we love little.


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