Charity without love is empty
The Rev. Valerie Miller-Coleman, executive director of Family Promise of Lawrence, www.lawrencefamilypromise.org:
Not too long ago I served a small congregation in a low-income neighborhood. Half of our members were chronically homeless, and the other half were not much better off. Each week a wealthier congregation sent volunteers to serve us a meal before worship. I remember well the consternation on volunteers’ faces when some of our members accepted a dinner plate without making eye contact or saying “thank you.” I also remember many groups of volunteers hunkering down to eat their dinner in the church kitchen, safely ensconced behind the pass-through window. They did not choose to share a table with those they had served.
As a pastor in that congregation I learned how grinding poverty forces many people to swallow their pride when asking for charity. I saw how accepting charity from others week after week compromised our members’ self-respect as they learned to see themselves as needy. Our members told me they felt like objects of pity — not real people in real relationships.
To paraphrase the Apostle Paul, if we give charity but have not love our gifts are empty. Without a genuinely caring relationship — even the simple exchange of respectful conversation over dinner — charity may do more damage than good. At the same time, I believe that charitable giving has an important role. Tithing in our congregations and contributing to important causes has enormous value both for our community and our spiritual lives. To give our money, our time and our other resources to those in need is good for all of us. It reminds us that we are only stewards of these gifts that truly belong to God. Yet when we stop at the giving of gifts and do not risk real relationship with people in need we lose the chance to be transformed by God’s love — a love that transcends economic boundaries.
— Send e-mail to Valerie Miller-Coleman at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Examples of giving abound in Bible
The Rev. Kent Winters-Hazelton, pastor, First Presbyterian Church, 2415 Clinton Parkway:
One of the foundational stories of the Christian New Testament concerns a man who had fallen among thieves, was robbed, beaten and left for dead.
A foreigner, a Samaritan, came to his aid and found for him, food, safety and medicine, and then left money with the innkeeper to care for all the wounded man’s needs.
As Jesus spoke of the Samaritan’s actions, he defined the ethical core of the Christian tradition: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul strength and mind; and you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:25-27; see also Matthew 22:34-40).
Examples of charity — the giving from the wealth of our resources to others — are bountiful in the Bible and in the sacred texts of other faith traditions. These models for our faith journey offer tangible ways for people of faith to love our neighbor (locally and globally) who are in need.
In this contemporary era, where the gap between the rich and the poor in America, and the gap between the richest nations of the West and the poorest nations of the South, grow at an alarming and unsustainable rate, charity becomes essential for the survival of millions.
This past week, at the monthly meeting of the Downtown Clergy, Jeanette Collier, the director of ECKAN said, “Without the faith-based community (in Lawrence), our community would be in dire straits.” It is in part through the generous charity of members of temples, mosques, synagogues and churches that Lawrence is able to provide critical services for shelter, transitional housing, food pantries, clothing stores, and medical, transportation and educational assistance for those among us who are in need.
— Send e-mail to Kent Winters-Hazelton at email@example.com