What Is Happening to Charity?
AFTER the attacks of September 11, 2001, in New York City and Washington, D.C., public support for the victims of the tragedy was remarkable. Charities were overwhelmed by $2.7 billion in donations to help care for the victims’ families. Shocked by the extent of the devastation, people everywhere wanted to help.
The mood of some of the public quickly soured, however, when allegations surfaced that prominent charities were misappropriating funds. There was a flood of outrage at the report that one large charity planned to hold back nearly half of the $546 million it received and use it for other purposes. Although the organization later reversed its decision and apologized, one reporter observed: “Critics see this new turn of events as a day late and a dollar short to restore the trust” enjoyed before the attacks. How about you? Has your trust in charity been shaken lately?
Useful or Wasteful?
Giving to charity is generally considered to be a virtue. Yet, not everyone sees it that way. Over 200 years ago, Samuel Johnson, the English essayist, wrote: “You are much surer that you are doing good when you pay money to those who work, as the recompense of their labour, than when you give money merely in charity.” Some today have similar reservations, and reports of charitable organizations that are mishandling or mismanaging donations do little to bolster public confidence. Consider two recent examples.
A director of a religious charity in San Francisco was dismissed after allegedly billing his agency for his cosmetic surgery and for his $500-per-week restaurant bills over a period of two years. In Britain, organizers of a major television charity event were embarrassed when it was discovered that out of 6.5 million pounds (about $10 million, U.S.) sent in to help build new orphanages in Romania, only 12 substandard houses were ever built, and hundreds of thousands of dollars went unaccounted for. Negative reports like these have rightly caused some donors to become more cautious about how much they contribute and to whom.
To Give or Not to Give
It would be a shame, however, to allow the actions of a few individuals or organizations to squelch our genuine concern and compassion for others. The Bible says: “The form of worship that is clean and undefiled from the standpoint of our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their tribulation.” (James 1:27) Yes, active concern for the poor and disadvantaged is an integral part of Christianity.
Still, you might wonder, ‘Should I continue to give to charity, or should I simply try to help by personal gifts to individuals?’ What kind of giving does God expect? The following article will discuss these questions.