Monday, December 22, 2008

Charitable Giving

Or membership fee?

Arthur Brooks is a conservative researcher and the incoming president of the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute. He's also the author of a book on charitable giving, called Who Really Cares, that cites data showing that "households headed by conservatives give 30 percent more to charity than households headed by liberals." Every so often, his findings are trumpeted as proof that conservatives are more genuinely compassionate than liberals. And that's exactly what Nick Kristof did over the weekend.

But the difference can be explained in one word, and it's not "compassion." It's "religion." A recent survey from Google similarly found that self-identified conservatives gave more to charity than did self-identified liberals. But they also found that "if donations to all religious organizations are excluded, liberals give slightly more to charity than conservatives do." Indeed, religious congregations are far and away the largest recipients of charitable gifts: In 2006, they made up 32.8 percent of all giving. But is that charity, at least charity as Kristof and Brooks are defining it? For instance: Utah is among the most Republican states in the nation, largely because of its heavily conservative Mormon population. Mormons tithe 10 percent a week to their church. But is that charitable giving? Or is it a membership fee? How much of it goes to anti-poverty programming? How much to church administration?


  1. Klein asks a lot of questions, and doesn't offer any answers.

    Here's some. For instance:

    "religious people are 21 percentage points more likely than secularists to volunteer for totally nonreligious causes; or that they are about twice as likely to donate blood."

    "And this is not just a question of religious people giving to their churches, as meritorious as that might be: They also give and volunteer significantly more to explicitly nonreligious causes and charities."

    "conservative-headed families in 2000 gave about 30 percent more money per year than liberal-headed families on average, while (in these data, at least), earning 6 percent less income."

  2. We give generously THROUGH religious organizations. For example, this past year our church raised enough money in one week to cover the complete costs of care for 48 orphans in Ethiopia for a full year - food, clothing, shelter, education, medical care, carefully chosen sponsor families to live with and farm animals for the sponsor families that can help them better support their own children and the orphans they care for. But we didn't stop there, within less than a month we had raised enough funds to care the orphans for 2-3 years and "Food for the Hungry" requested that we stop giving until they could make arrangements and plans as to how to use more funds. So now we are considering taking care of orphans in China. Our children communicate by mail with the children in Africa. This summer we are sending several families from our congregation to spend time with these orphans. Not a penny of the money raised for specific causes like this go to our church itself. This was the largest single cause our personal funds went to last year.

    Our church also has a large ministry to the homeless in which many of us volunteer our time and money and a ministry that provides emergency funds to the needy.

    Really, really good churches don't spend the bulk of what they receive on themselves - they spend it on those in need.

    We personally as well as our church only work with charitable organizations with very low overhead costs so that most of the money goes to the individuals who should be receiving it.

    And, yes, we're a member of one of those supposedly "unloving, hateful evangelical churches". The truth is that we are a group of individuals willing to make personal financial and time sacrifices to help those in need, both financially and spiritually.

    Jesus commanded His followers to love everyone and to take care of the poor. We do that. He never gave us the OUT of seeking money from others to take care of the poor through taxation and government help to the poor. The more taxation we have, the less we are able to help the poor and it's definitely true we are more effective than government agencies could ever hope to be. Taxing us to give government help to the poor really means that very little of it gets to the poor. A lot of it goes to government bureaucracy.