Ye Have the Poor With You Always

Warning: this post represents Steve at his most preachy and bleeding-heart liberal level.

A while ago, during the thread dealing with the hypothetical of a somewhat lavish Scouting camp, I got a little exorcised. Many, including myself, had a hard time dealing with the prospect of spending tens of thousands of dollars on what is essentially a vacation, when there are so many that desperately need money for food and survival. BCC alum Mathew put the screws to some of us a bit, thusly:

On a side note, I call upon all those who would rather see the money go to Africa or some such similar place to immediately make a meaningful sacrifice in terms of their lifestyle and donate the money to a meaningful cause (I’m looking at you Steve Evans). Please then allow the rest of us and our kids to enjoy life a little despite the obvious moral deficiency that arises due to not spending summers living in the bush.

I’d like to address this obvious moral deficiency.

The past week or so, I have been riveted by the news coverage of food shortages and riots that seem to be ever-increasing in their frequency and ferocity. Poor harvests have caused short-term crises in various parts of the world, but the global food price increases have been linked to many more difficult causes, including the demands of biofuels, increasing levels of meat consumption, and most notably the price of oil, which is the key to fertilizers, transport and any form of industrialized food-growing. The gist of it all is that common staples such as corn, rice and wheat now cost as much as double their pre-2007 indexes.

The Economist and The New York Times, safe havens both for bleeding hearts such as myself, have each dealt with the crisis in a poignant and deeply unsettling way. This NY Times piece was in part the catalyst for this post:

In the sprawling slum of Haiti’s Cité Soleil, Placide Simone, 29, offered one of her five offspring to a stranger. “Take one,” she said, cradling a listless baby and motioning toward four rail-thin toddlers, none of whom had eaten that day. “You pick. Just feed them.”

Appropriate reactions to this include crying, nausea, anger, and blogging.

Poverty is not a new problem. Moses addressed it thusly: “For the poor shall never cease out of the land: therefore I command thee, saying, Thou shalt open thine hand wide unto thy brother, to thy poor, and to thy needy, in thy land.” I doubt that economic disparity in ancient Israel was as pronounced as today, but I trust that my co-bloggers will be able to redress this if I am in error.

Our scriptures are rife regarding how we are to act towards the poor. I see no point in repeating the Topical Guide on this point. I could spend some time debunking the use of scripture as a means of justifying not giving to the poor (chief offender: Mosiah 4:27), but again I don’t think doing so would be fruitful, because on average I think we all agree that the words of God are clear concerning the poor. Instead I turn again to what Mathew said to me, and I ask, what is the moral justification, in scripture or otherwise, to permit the average Mormon in North America to “allow… us and our kids to enjoy life a little despite the obvious moral deficiency that arises due to not spending summers living in the bush.” In other words, is there a convincing or helpful reason that we choose not to give to the poor?

This post was originally meant to be much longer than it is. I unfortunately could not come up with any convincing rationales. Common arguments, such as the need to tend to one’s own family first, or Mosiah 4:27, or referring the interlocutor to one’s fast offerings or tithing, seemed to come up short to me*. Similarly, I considered the objection that is sometimes raised by those in a taxation/social welfare context, namely that forced donation to the poor is an evil, that the dole is an evil, and that just giving food or money to the poor will be ultimately wasteful and counterproductive for society as a whole. I am a firm-believer in self-reliance, but before the image of the starving Haitian mother begging someone to feed her dying children, these lines of reasoning tend to collapse. I would prefer indolent children to dead ones.

Ultimately, Mathew’s call for me to put my money where my mouth is was timely and appropriate. The question that remains is, “how much should I give?” This is, I believe, the most dangerous of the possible deceptions as we consider giving alms. I fear that much of my charity is considered in the light of taxable income and fiscal appropriateness, while the proper measure is that of the widow’s mite:

And Jesus sat over against the treasury, and beheld how the people cast money into the treasury: and many that were rich cast in much. And there came a certain poor widow, and she threw in two mites, which make a farthing. And he called unto him his disciples, and saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That this poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury: For all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living.

Today I am writing a check to Oxfam. The amount of the check will probably not sizeable to anyone with real wealth, but to me and my wife it represents a sacrifice in lifestyle. We will be less comfortable because of this donation. I plan on doing more, as I do some research and prayer about it. In turn I turn it back to you, readers. What will you do for the poor? I have no counterargument to Christ’s words:

When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.

Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not. Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee? Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.

———————————–

*I should note that there are many members of the Church who do, in fact, give much of their time and money to helping the poor, who indeed have devoted their lives to the task. Before such people I bow low and hope to become more like them.

PS — the title of my post is the topic of a fine exegesis by Julie Smith, here. It has actually little, I think, to do directly with my actual post.

Comments

  1. BRAVO!!!

  2. Instead I turn again to what Mathew said to me, and I ask, what is the moral justification, in scripture or otherwise, to permit the average Mormon in North America to “allow… us and our kids to enjoy life a little despite the obvious moral deficiency that arises due to not spending summers living in the bush.” In other words, is there a convincing or helpful reason that we choose not to give to the poor?

    A wonderful post Steve. I believe wholeheartedly in your premise and in Christ’s words. We should do more for the poor among us. I appreciate your example.

    But while we have your example of sacrifice, what are we to make of the example of the corporate church, that will spend more in one purchase and renovation of property in downtown SLC, than was spent in the last 5 years on humanitarian aid?

    And I don’t ask this question to castigate the church (well, just a little), or to dismiss your donation (which I think is wonderful) but to answer your call for a moral justification. Should we pattern our lives on the example the church sets, and give to the poor much, but still hold back to provide to our families (i.e. $1.5B shopping malls)? That is Mathew’s argument.

    Or should we pattern ourselves after the widow, and give of our wants, and maybe not send our children to scout, girls, or science camp?

    I don’t know that the answer is the same for everyone, and I appreciate the answer you and your family have reached for your lives.

  3. Kari, I wish I had an answer about that. I don’t mean to transplant my post to an institutional level, because I have a lot of confidence in our leadership and know well that they think often of the poor. But yes, our buildings are very nice.

    More to the point, though, I don’t have much to add or any real way to influence the Church’s fiscal activities, and in any event would only feel the moral highground to do so when I’ve taken care of my personal obligations with respect to the less fortunate. In other words, I think this is yet another distraction and temptation away from us doing something NOW within our power to save lives. Our eyes should be on the ball in front of us.

  4. BTW, I am hardly an example of sacrifice — I’m a rich guy who finds it thought-provoking to occasionally spend money on something other than custom shirts. Examples of real sacrifice and effort are all around us. I think of Travis, ECS’s spouse, and his efforts in Haiti. That’s a level of work for good that I cannot begin to approach.

  5. david knowlton says:

    Steve, Important post. ECLA (the Economic Commission for Latin America) reported that a 15% increase in the price of food in Latin America alone will cause 15.7 million poor people to fall into extreme poverty. That is defined as being unable to afford the basics of life . This hurts. Since the debt crisis Latin American countries have been struggling to raise their people out of extreme poverty. Now global inflation, and specifically the price of food, threatens to undo all the hard work and throw people back into extreme poverty. This is a global disaster of horrendous proportions. It needs systematic responses from global social and economic agencies. it also needs donations like Steve’s to NGO’s who combat hunger (OXFAM in Steve’s case). I will be in Peru beginning next Monday evening and will post what I see, providing BCC still allows me to guest blog. This situation breaks my heart.

  6. Steve, I admire your willingness to sacrifice your personal lifestyle for good a cause.

    I prefer to give of my time to good causes and then give targeted donations to those in need, usually someone in my ward boundaries. I am hopeful that relieving the need in my neighborhood will allow others to address the needs of those in the global neighborhood.

    Like you, I can find no counterargument or rebuttal to the Savior’s words.

    To your words, I will add: “Go ye therefore and do likewise.”

  7. David, we can do better than allow you to guest blog. Check your inbox.

  8. A corollary question I have is about donation effectiveness:

    I’m sure you have all heard stories of donations given to countries in Africa where they rotted on the docks because the government wouldn’t distribute them. Other cases where they just kept it for the rulers or sold it for a profit abound also.

    At what point do donations to 3rd world countries become support of the government rather than support of the poor?

  9. I should also mention the old saw about teaching a man to fish…

  10. Steve,

    I agree with you. I really only meant for this to be an example that can be interpreted to support Mathew’s position.

    Can/would you or anyone suggest other charities (not that I think Oxfam is bad, I don’t) and list what percentage of donations go to overhead? I remember once investigating Heifer International, and being surprised their overhead was ~28% (if I remember correctly, but I am certain it was >25%). I think that we can certainly make our donations go further by choosing charities carefully and would appreciate all the help in that choice.

  11. Re #3, I once heard a member of the 70 (don’t recall his name right now) say that they would sell Church buildings to help the poor if it would eliminate poverty. I’ll try to find notes from the meeting I attended and come back with more detail. This meeting was 10+ yrs ago..

  12. Ranbato, there is corruption and inefficiency in any government — again, I suspect that this (and your comment in #9) represents, to a certain extent, a temptation to lull us into nonaction.

    Forbes has a piece on efficient charities, but the list is deceptive; it is lacking in terms of global NGOs and one shouldn’t confuse overhead with real-world efficiency.

    Charitywatch grades various charities, and breaks them down by categories. Oxfam is a hunger charity that also builds infrastructure. But again, indecision and delay is really going to be the limiting factor here, not inefficiency per se,

  13. To answer my own question, I found the following site that allows one to look up a charity and its expenses:

    http://www.charitynavigator.org/

    Here’s a brief list of charities and their overhead:

    Oxfam – 21%
    Heifer Int’l – 24.9%
    Action Against Hunger – 11%
    CARE – 8.4%

    What are some of the others dedicated to fighting poverty and hunger? These are the ones that I could think of off the top of my head.

  14. Action Against Hunger is an A+ at charitywatch. CARE is an A, Oxfam an A-, and Heifer Int’l is not listed on their website, but can be found in their guide which you can get for $3 s/h. With the web, there should be no indecision or delay. I think Action Against Hunger will be getting my donation.

  15. Another great thing about the charity navigator website is that it lists top salaries for each charity.

  16. When we look at the Church spending 1.5 billion on a project we tend not to look at the longterm return on investment – just the short term cost. I am sure that the profits derived from the construction of the mall will be used wisely by the church for many years to accomplish the mission of the church. The old adage of “you have to spend money to make money is inherent in this arm of the church”.

    Looking at those with wealth we have to be very careful in our judgments because we dont know what they are involved in or how much they give of the proceeds of their labors. Look at Huntsman with his donations. Nonetheless he still makes money with his businesses. Perhaps he is blessed with great wealth because he is charitable? Another parable is to look at the parable of the talents. They were commanded to increase what they were given (perhap so they had more to give later and in perpetuity)?

  17. Carl: “Perhaps [Huntsman] is blessed with great wealth because he is charitable?”

    Carl, perhaps. Are the poor cursed because of their stinginess? As you say, we have to be very careful in our judgments.

    Or, better still, judge not at all, and get to work, each of us, to do the most we can, immediately, for the benefit of the poor and the needy.

  18. Carl, your post is a great argument for the Church being more open with its finances. You can have faith that the profits will be used wisely, but many are doubtful there will be much profit realized. I don’t live anywhere near SLC, but from what I’ve read, downtown SLC is not exactly going through a high-popularity phase right now. I think that the church is hoping that this project will stimulate a revitalization, but there are certainly no guarantees. This project may be a money hole for years and years.

    But Steve is right, it shouldn’t matter how we act. That is between us and our God(s).

  19. Truly there is a prophet in the Bloggernacle.

    Oxfam is a very worthy cause. I also echo your warnings about non-action. I don’t know precisely how teaching that Haitian child to fish will save its life RIGHT NOW, nor am I sure it’s too productive to worry about how an obviously reputable charity pays its bills.

    We speak a lot about robbing God by not paying tithing; the parable of the sheep and goats reminds us that we also rob God when we neglect the poor.

    We shall try to do something extra this month.

  20. Steve–Marvelous. I find these discussions at Church to be very disheartening as they so often turn into discussions of how/why NOT to give.

    Kari–thanks for looking those up. I was going to suggest CARE–they did a lot of good work in Kenya when I was there. We are really blessed to live in an internet age where we can research and donate on-line. It couldn’t be easier.

    I think a little self-examination of our spending is appropriate. Why buy a $17,000 car when a $12,000 will suffice and I could do something genuinely life-changing for someone with the difference? Is it really moral to maintain a summer house (even a rustic cabin or RV) in a place where I KNOW people who do not have any shelter? Could my family have a picnic dinner that costs $15 rather than eating out for $40 and contribute that $25 through a microlender?

  21. ESO, right on — I was hoping you’d chime in. Sometimes the incremental cost to us for some significant charity is incredibly low, yet we let Satan lull us into doing nothing, under the guise of convenience. I’m as guilty as any in this respect but feel like my eyes are opening a little.

  22. The food crisis has been on my mind as well, and your timely post is prompting me and my wife to look at options. Oxfam, as noted, is good. There are also several microcredit banks that offer something more than just immediate food (ie, capital to start a small business) for actually very minimal amounts. Unitus is one with at least one or more founders and board members who are LDS, and liberals at heart like Steve. More information at http://www.unitus.com, or their blog .

  23. Unitus is a great organization, Kevin — glad you brought it up. The only problem with them is that right now we need to operate on the immediate hemorrhage, and Unitus’ solution is just not fast enough for me. That said, these aren’t mutually exclusive options, and both types of action are awesome.

  24. Matt Jacobsen says:

    Great post, Steve.

    I certainly find myself justifying laying up too much treasure on earth for the sake of my long-term future and my children’s. By following my desire to save my children from a life of poverty, it’s too easy to keep a distance from those in real poverty now. Poverty doesn’t seem so bad when I approach it only on my terms and in the role of giver. Instead of affluence making me more likely to give to the poor, it seems to give me more excuses not to (e.g. better neighborhoods, better schools, safer cars, family experiences, etc.).

    Yet I struggle with where to draw the line in giving to others vs giving to myself and family. I have yet to meet parents who’ve failed to provide for their children because they gave too much away to the poor. There might be some out there, but I doubt I will ever approach that extreme.

    And since you live in Seattle, may I mention my favorite charity, Washington Women in Need. Okay, so they’re the opposite of global, but 100% of donations do go directly to recipients.

  25. Matt, you’ve hit on something that strikes me very strongly — that somehow my money is not mine, it’s my family’s and therefore I cannot give it away. Part of that is really very true. But I suspect it’s less true than I tell myself… still, I think of Mrs. Jellyby in Dickens’ Bleak House, and want to avoid that extreme…

    Thanks for the link to WWiN. Worthy cause, indeed.

  26. I also like the World Food Programme’s Red Cup fund. Donate at https://secure.my-websites.org/supporter/donatenow.do?n=gbss&dfdbid=1044253

  27. Kevin Barney says:

    I saw on TV where in Haiti a lot of people are eating mud patties made of dirt (mixed with oil and sugar), which is the only thing standing between them and death. Can you imagine having to eat dirt to survive? I was flabbergasted by that.

  28. Thomas Parkin says:

    “that somehow my money is not mine, it’s my family’s and therefore I cannot give it away.”

    Actually, I think it belongs to God. :)

    ~

  29. My heart is bleeding thinking of the Haitian woman offering her children if only someone would feed them… it puts things in perspective.

    Thank you for the amazing post, Steve. I have much to contemplate, and some action to take.

  30. Steve,
    Thanks for the post. In my experience, this subject is swept under the rug all too often in our church. Thanks for having the guts to put your money where your mouth had formerly been.
    Without falling too much into the trap Ronan highlighted about quibbling over fish and fishing or overheads, I wonder if anyone has heard of Kiva http://www.kiva.org/ . They were featured on Frontline’s Christmas show and their approach seems to me to be very personal and hopeful. Does anyone have any information or thoughts?

  31. Speaking of Haiti.

    Thanks for the post Steve. While the bloggernacle delves into hypocrisy and self-righteousness, you choose to act. Your example is admirable and I need to do some reevaluating myself.

  32. Wonderful post, Steve. May I offer one practical task for every single person who reads this?

    GET OUT OF DEBT and donate the interest you currently are giving to people who are already rich as donations to the poor, instead. Every dollar you put into the coffers of the money lenders is multiple meals a poor child cannot eat.

  33. Steve Evans says:

    Ray, I have to disagree a bit with that. If we wait until we are out of debt, the poor will never get anything. If you’re talking about high-interest debt, sure, it’s good to pay that off, but the average mortgageholder or student loan? If you delay helping the poor until you’re out from under that debt, then Haiti will have become a graveyard.

  34. Steve, sorry my intention wasn’t to disparage or discourage contributing. I was merely trying to hint (poorly) that far, far too often we wait until there is a crisis to donate money or food to satisfy immediate needs when what we really should have been doing is educating them, digging wells, working with Dr.s Without Borders, etc. to stave off the problems before they become critical.

    We end up rushing from fire to fire throwing water at them instead of dealing with the ignition sources. Things like wells, irrigation, agricultural training, micro-loans, etc. will, in the long run, make a greater difference than sending food now.
    Let me reiterate – they may need food now, and we shouldn’t shirk in helping them – but when the immediate need dies down is when we can actually make the biggest long term difference.

  35. Want to help the poor? The most cost effective way is to increase funding for scientific research. Seriously. There’s no way the world could remotely support its current population were it not for all the advances in science, medicine, and engineering. Such things have done more than all the moral lectures ever given to produce tangible changes in quality of life for the poor.

    I’m not saying that’s all that need done. But seriously – that’s the best way.

    Unfortunately the current government has been cutting research. And few people seems as excited about donating to such things.

  36. Finally, something in the bloggernacle worth talking about! This topic has been on my mind frequently since I began blogging 6 months ago or so.

    I’ll admit that I have not yet put my money where my mouth is. My family is definately not poor, and certainly we could give more than we are currently, so this topic is both very interesting and heart-wrenching as it reminds me that I’m not doing all that I should be. Our stake president recently challenged us to give more in fast offerings, and we’re in the process of figuring out exactly how much we will step it up. Even so, I realize we should be doing more apart from fast offerings as well. So fully aware of my hypocricy, here are my views:

    I’ve wondered recently why the church doesn’t encourage its members to support world-wide relief efforts. Sure, the church does a lot, but I don’t often hear calls to individual members to step up. Why is this? I heard once that an apostle (sorry, I don’t have a better reference than that) said that it’s because the church focuses on what it is most uniquely able to provide–spiritual nurishment and ordinances, and leaves charitable service as a secondary goal, since it can be accomplished by anyone. That leaves it to us members to be engaged in a good cause without needing constant prodding from our spiritual leaders.

    The question of how much we should give is also a very difficult one. How can I justify any luxury when there are people starving? Yet, if my goal is to give until there is no one less fortunate than I am, then I would succeed, but mostly by decreasing my own state instead of improving the state of others.

    Switching gears, your post also asks the question if there is any defensible argument for not giving to the poor. Let me just put this thought out there: Your posts, and several comments, mention the increasing price of food. So I would ask: Which is better, giving to the poor so they don’t go hungry, or putting our money into supporting political solutions that we believe will alleviate the global food price problem. I’ll try to avoid specifics to avoid a thread-jack, but to give you an idea of what I’m talking about, I’ll mention one possibility: by subsidizing ethanol, is the US contributing the world hunger?

    Another possible argument is that be increasing one’s own wealth instead of giving to the poor, you put yourself in a better position to help more in the future. I realize that this is often just an excuse, but there is some truth to it. If you’re constantly just getting by and giving every penny of excess to the poor, you are giving up your opportunity to invest and possibly get to a point where you can give exponentially more. The trick is to know when you’ve reached the point were you have enough and should start focusing on giving, which is very difficult.

    This comment is long enough, so I’ll stop. I could go on forever on this topic. Thanks for this post.

  37. Singleinthecity says:

    Here’s my favorite charity that fights hunger: http://www.fmsc.org/ (Feed My Starving Children)

    It’s a great organization. Many local wards volunteer at their packaging centers on a regular basis. Only 5% overhead!!

  38. Steve, I didn’t mean to wait until you are completely debt-free to contribute – not at all. Home and schooling debt, especially, are investments – as long as that is not used as a justification to maximize the value of one’s home way beyond what is necessary for real comfort. When I say, “Get out of debt,” I usually don’t even look at reasonable home and student debt. I should have made that clear.

    Obviously, the “ideal” solution is to avoid high-interest, revolving debt entirely. However, if you are paying even just $200/month in basic credit card debt, that’s money that you are obligated to pay that can’t be given to help the poor. If you have a choice of paying $250/month on the debt and $50/month to charities or paying $200/month on debt and $100/month on charities – and if paying that extra $50/month on debt will free up the other $200/month for charitable contributions years earlier than not paying it – which method will end up giving more to charity in the long run? (Also, the focus and control necessary to eliminate debt – and not return to it – are exactly the characteristics that then allow you to contribute to charity almost no matter what your actual income is.)

    Phrased from the other side, if you were the lender, which option would you want the debtor to pursue? Whatever the answer is to that question, the “moral” answer probably is the other one.

  39. Just an observation from my days so long ago as a Ward Financial Clerk:

    The largest regular contributor in our ward, as a percent of income, was a woman with 4 kids who periodically had to receive assistance whenever her non-member husband was laid off of his job. Her contribution was $10/month – assistance or no assistance. Her justification was that she received far more than that in her need, so she didn’t feel right not giving “my insignificant amount as a way of saying thanks.”

    I think she simply wouldn’t understand the idea that she should wait to give until she was better off.

  40. Steve,
    Let me also add that this is a bit of a score for blogdom:
    Steve blogs.
    Matthew blogs, and, slightly ridiculously, calls Steve on the carpet.
    Steve, after waging a small battle on the post, uses the experience as a chance for self-reflection.
    Steve and his wife cut back a little and make a donation.
    Steve posts about the experience and now we all feel like lushes.

    Looks like the ball is in our court now, Bloggernacle.

  41. Regarding the fish/fishing excuse, here’s Martin Luther King speaking about the Good Samaritan:
    “Now you know, we use our imagination a great deal to try to determine why the priest and the Levite didn’t stop. At times we say they were busy going to a church meeting, an ecclesiastical gathering, and they had to get on down to Jerusalem so they wouldn’t be late for their meeting. At other times we would speculate that there was a religious law that “One who was engaged in religious ceremonials was not to touch a human body twenty-four hours before the ceremony.” And every now and then we begin to wonder whether maybe they were not going down to Jerusalem — or down to Jericho, rather to organize a “Jericho Road Improvement Association.” That’s a possibility. Maybe they felt that it was better to deal with the problem from the causal root, rather than to get bogged down with an individual effect.
    “But I’m going to tell you what my imagination tells me. It’s possible that those men were afraid. You see, the Jericho road is a dangerous road. I remember when Mrs. King and I were first in Jerusalem. We rented a car and drove from Jerusalem down to Jericho. And as soon as we got on that road, I said to my wife, “I can see why Jesus used this as the setting for his parable.” It’s a winding, meandering road. It’s really conducive for ambushing. You start out in Jerusalem, which is about 1200 miles — or rather 1200 feet above sea level. And by the time you get down to Jericho, fifteen or twenty minutes later, you’re about 2200 feet below sea level. That’s a dangerous road. In the days of Jesus it came to be known as the “Bloody Pass.” And you know, it’s possible that the priest and the Levite looked over that man on the ground and wondered if the robbers were still around. Or it’s possible that they felt that the man on the ground was merely faking. And he was acting like he had been robbed and hurt, in order to seize them over there, lure them there for quick and easy seizure. And so the first question that the priest asked — the first question that the Levite asked was, “If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?” But then the Good Samaritan came by. And he reversed the question: ‘If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?’
    “That’s the question before you tonight. Not, “If I stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to my job. Not, “If I stop to help the sanitation workers what will happen to all of the hours that I usually spend in my office every day and every week as a pastor?” The question is not, “If I stop to help this man in need, what will happen to me?” The question is, “If I do not stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to them?” That’s the question.”

  42. California Condor says:

    I applaud efforts to donate money to the poor. But the best gift we can give poor people is an efficient economy.

    We could start by supporting politicians who believe in open labor markets, thus allowing migrant workers to earn a living where they are needed.

  43. Without intending to detract from the compassion expressed in this thread, I’ll echo Clark’s (#65) comment. Advances in science and technology are essential to attaining and maintaining the ability to provide worldwide satisfaction of the basic needs of humanity, and will almost certainly work much faster than alternatives. Imagine a world in which a everyone has access to cheap and abundant food and water. We’re getting closer at an exponential rate.

    http://foodnavigator.com/news/ng.asp?id=54760&n=dh260&c=%23emailcode

    http://www.wired.com/science/discoveries/news/2006/10/71898

    I’ll also suggest that a portfolio approach to charitable donations aimed at a mix of shorter-term and longer-term efforts may best enable us to behave in a manner that reflects both compassion and reason, which are mutually enhancing.

  44. Sorry. I didn’t intend to try to predict so much of the future. Clark’s post, to which I referred, is #35.

  45. Thomas Parkin says:

    “The trick is to know when you’ve reached the point were you have enough ”

    What I wrote in my journal earlier today:

    Here’s my simple query to myself: I live in a decent sized apartment, surrounded by a river, forest, paths along and through, amazing views of a volcano. I’ve got a comfortable bed and sofa, shelves full of books, this computer, desk, a kitchen full of food. Yet, daily I deal with people who think that I’m living in a kind of poverty. Who, for instance, might look at the car I’m driving and wonder what has gone wrong (he seems to be so bright, why can’t he get ahead!). Yet, what percentage of the world’s people would cross a desert to get what I have? At what point do I stop reaching so hard for more, and settle in, in gratitude?

    ~

  46. In the sprawling slum of Haiti’s Cité Soleil, Placide Simone, 29, offered one of her five offspring to a stranger. “Take one,” she said, cradling a listless baby and motioning toward four rail-thin toddlers, none of whom had eaten that day. “You pick. Just feed them.”

    Appropriate reactions to this include crying, nausea, anger, and blogging.

    Strange, the only response I have is a desire to take the children and feed them. I then feel a same sense of sadness that I am not in Hati and so can not do this.

    Perhaps it is because of my own meager finances, but I find it annoying the constant guilt trip about the poor in Africa or in Hati, or somewhere. Always somewhere far away, and how am I suppose to change things there?

    I help those in need who are right in front of me. I try to make the world in front of me better as best I can to the extent my resources are capable.

    I have done often enough to know that I am a generous man, and I am willing to sacrifice my own possessions to help others. Am I somehow guilty that I am here and a person is somewhere in need beyond my sight?

    God put me where I am. I help those He puts in my path, and that is enough. If He wants me to go somewhere to help others in another place I am sure He can tell me so. He has done so before and I have gone. Until He does again I shall focus my efforts on helping those who are here with me and in my charge now.

    I think that is God wants of me.

  47. For your economic topics:

    As for the current food crisis- perhaps the government should desist with the Depression Era subsidies paying farmers to not grow wheat. Additionally this is likely to be beneficial in the long run to Africa- as farming should become more profitable.

    The cost of food as a percentage of income is drastically lower then it has been previously.

    Also, the income disparity of today is likely less (in real wealth if not monetarily) then it was in ancient Israel- if only because the job prospects for a man with out land, capital, or professional skill is far better then it was then. The differences in life expectancy is the greatest example of this.

  48. Steve Evans says:

    Lincoln, Clark, CC — yes. There are lots and lots of things we must do and policies to revise. But again, people are dying right now, as we type. I’m all for policy change but not at the expense of present action.

  49. Steve Evans says:

    “I find it annoying the constant guilt trip about the poor in Africa or in Hati, or somewhere. Always somewhere far away, and how am I suppose to change things there?”

    Cicero, really? This thread is full of some pretty good ideas on what to do. As for why it always seems to be far away… maybe it’s because we’re all rich and isolated in our wealth? I understand the needs of those immediately around us, and can’t discount what you’re saying about helping those within reach, but in modern society there is simply no reason to let geographical distance somehow prevent us from helping those who literally have nothing and will die without our aid.

  50. Aaron Brown says:

    Steve,

    Really great post. And this is a really tough issue; one can come away from it ashamed at one’s stinginess and yet so easily not make the life changes such feelings should demand. One can also come away determined to give X dollars or X% of one’s income … and yet how does one justify not giving X + 1? When does our response to extreme poverty become sufficient and stop being shamefully paltry?

    The topic of “excuses church members give to rationalize their own stinginess” really does deserve a post of its own.

    By the way, the objection that “forced donation to the poor is evil” isn’t really an objection to what I take to be your main point. We are called to do what we can to alleviate poverty and the suffering of the poor. Arguments against redistributive schemes are not objections to this call; they are objections to a particular means. Granted, those who object to means may be masking an indifference to ends. But not necessarily. T&S’ Matt Evans has always been an interesting, indeed extreme, example of this point. Matt is as economically conservative as they come in many ways, yet he has voiced serious moral qualms about buying toys for his children that he knows the neighbor kids cannot afford, and scoffed at arguments that would lesson our charitable obligations to those thousands of miles away. The issues really are separable.

    By the way, I spent a week in Haiti last year, traveling on a “mission trip” with my Methodist minister-cousin’s church congretation. We spent much of our time in the “wealthier” areas (read: still very poor); we were told to stay away from Port au Prince’s most impoverished slums. In many ways, I wish I hadn’t heeded this advice. And yet I saw enough to see how terrible living conditions are for much of the population. I can only imagine how much worse conditions are now.

    One of the most interesting Bloggernacle exchanges on poverty and churchmembers’ responses to it took place a couple years ago between Nate Oman and some other very articulate blogger. I wish I could remember the site and link to it. A mortifying but enlightening exchange, in which one side insisted that the poverty of others doesn’t really need to be addressed for its own sake; it’s there to give us an opportunity to develop our own virtue by responding to it correctly, but the poor themselves are but pawns in our own quest for moral development. Nate really took the guy to task; it was a real keeper. Wish I could find it.

    Aaron B

  51. Aaron Brown says:

    When I was in Haiti last year, one of the nicest buildings I saw anywhere in Port au Prince was a local LDS Church building. Gorgeous. Huge piece of land. In a very poor neighborhood, so surrounded by bars. Large outdoor basketball court….

    Aaron B

  52. Aaron Brown says:

    Steve:
    “I’m all for policy change but not at the expense of present action.”

    Of course, every dollar spent on policy change is a dollar not devoted to present action. Trade-offs are unavoidable, alas. That’s what makes determining the correct “moral” response to poverty so difficult. How does one even begin to analyze the trade-offs?

    I certainly don’t have the answers. And yet it seems undeniable that our collective response to helping those in dire need is woefully inadequate.

    Aaron B

  53. Can/would you or anyone suggest other charities (not that I think Oxfam is bad, I don’t) and list what percentage of donations go to overhead?

    LDS Humanitarian Services: 0% overhead

    (I’m fascinated how so many discussions on this topic fail to mention the fact that the Church really is a great option for our charitable giving. Certainly not the only option, but a really good one to consider.)

    Perhaps [Huntsman] is blessed with great wealth because he is charitable?

    There was a fascinating article on this very topic/hypothesis in the BYU Marriott School Magazine for Winter 2008. If you can find it online, it’s worth a read.

    BTW, I think this is an important topic. Thanks for the reminder to look inward, which I am doing even as I type.

    I do want to say that I wish discussions like this could stop there instead of people editorializing about how the Church, or people in the Church, or anyone else (in specifics or a general sense) do or don’t give, or should give. In the end, we can only decide what is right for ourselves, and that is hard enough to do (there is no easy answer to this — and wisdom and order really does matter — not as an excuse, but because somehow we are expected to consider all the counsel we receive — save, have food storage (both of which will mean we are serving self before others at some level right there), serve, provide for our own, get as much education as we can, and contribute through time and means in myriad ways, etc. etc. etc. — without worrying about what others are or are not doing. (And there is *my* editorializing for the day.)

    No wonder we are told to pray always! :)

  54. Steve Evans says:

    AB, just so — trade-offs are inevitable, and I can fully understand the desire to transition to self-reliance, but my sense is that food crises of this magnitude are relatively rare. So, why not get people through the worst of this, and keep the policy changes in mind to do later?

  55. Thomas Parkin says:

    “So, why not get people through the worst of this”

    Yup. And that applies on a small scale, too. It’s all well and good to talk about the development of those that are helped (except when this assumes as a principle that people are poor because they are morally deficient), but it is ridiculous to talk about the complete transformation some people’s lives need to undergo when they are in immediate need.

    ~

  56. MikeInWeHo says:

    re: 53
    “LDS Humanitarian Services: 0% overhead”
    How is that possible?

    Fantastic post, Steve. Thanks.

  57. Aaron Brown says:

    “In the end, we can only decide what is right for ourselves…”

    Yes and no. As I’ve said, figuring out the “right response” to poverty is impossible, if by “right response” we imagine some morally deducible response from some complete set of facts. The reality is that there are too many trade-offs, too many good causes, etc., for anyone to be able to say that a donation of X% or X amount to Y cause is morally superior to any other possible charitable decision. So yes, ultimately we all need to decide for ourselves.

    But it’s also easy to imagine the Church taking steps that would increase LDS churchmembers responses to global poverty to a much greater level than what they’re currently at. The Church could mandate all sorts of things, and provide ample religious/scriptural support for its mandates.

    Aaron B

  58. For anyone wanting to contribute to Kiva, in the top right box at FMH, we’ve had a link for a while and have already helped find 2 microloans.

    Great post Steve.

  59. sorry that should be fund not find!

  60. “LDS Humanitarian Services: 0% overhead”
    How is that possible?

    I suspect that means the Church absorbs the overhead. That was a fact straight from a church website, so I’m not making it up. :)

    “One hundred percent of the donations given to the Church’s humanitarian services are used for relief efforts.”

  61. Nick, I got that fact from a church website…just got put in moderation, I think.

    “One hundred percent of the donations given to the Church’s humanitarian services are used for relief efforts.”

  62. And my moderated comment also said that it must be that the church absorbs the overhead.

  63. Fantastic post, Steve. I’ve heard too many people (myself included) try and justify why they’re not doing more to help others and why they deserve to take care of #1 first, whatever that means for them. But at the end of the day, you’re completely right. There is no counterargument to Christ’s words.

    In the last few weeks there have been quite a few bread riots here. It’s eye-opening to be somewhere where people really are starving to death, most of them kids. When I try and grasp that, it blows my mind. It just… blows my mind. I look at the “street children” that are on every corner in my neighborhood (among the 1 million est street children in Egypt) and then look at my new son and think how blessed he is to never have to worry about that and then I want to cry, thinking some other mother’s son is outside dying.

    The Humanitarian Center is a great place to give to. Through them, the two humanitarian missionaries in this country were able to distribute wheelchairs on Saturday to hundreds of people who had never hoped to be able to move around. I talked to the missionaries that night and they were overwhelmed by the months of paperwork, bureaucracy, frustration with the government at trying to get the shipment into the country and then released without having to pay too may “fees,” standing out in the 112 degree heat being begged and pleaded with and nearly crushed by far, far more people than they had supplies for. But they kept going and are going to keep going despite how easy it would be to give up. They take Christ’s words and put them into action. Simple as that.

  64. Steve, this is awesome. Thanks for the righteous kick in the ass. We’ve recently had a more personal reason for rethinking our responsibility for the poor, but we need to ask that question — What will we do for the poor? — every day.

  65. Perhaps the money I’m expecting from Bush’s stimulus package is a good place to start. It undermines the point of local economic stimulus I know, but it’s hard to see my need (or my neighbor’s need) for such a windfall when compared to such violent poverty elsewhere.

    Thanks, Steve.

  66. The cynical misanthrope Paul Theroux has other ideas about pointless and counterproductive aid to Africa. His travel book Dark Star Safari has a lot on the descent of Africa since he first went there with the Peace Corps over 40 years ago. For a shorter read of his views, see his NY Times Op-Ed piece from Dec. 15, 2005.

    I am speaking of the “more money” platform: the notion that what Africa needs is more prestige projects, volunteer labor and debt relief. We should know better by now. I would not send private money to a charity, or foreign aid to a government, unless every dollar was accounted for – and this never happens. Dumping more money in the same old way is not only wasteful, but stupid and harmful; it is also ignoring some obvious points.

    If Malawi is worse educated, more plagued by illness and bad services, poorer than it was when I lived and worked there in the early 60’s, it is not for lack of outside help or donor money. Malawi has been the beneficiary of many thousands of foreign teachers, doctors and nurses, and large amounts of financial aid, and yet it has declined from a country with promise to a failed state.

  67. There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day:
    And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores,
    And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.
    And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried;
    And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments . . .

    Thanks Steve. If our doctrine means anything at all, it means that that Haitian woman is our sister, and those children are our nieces and nephews. If we neglect them, we literally are in hell, where we deserve to be.

  68. I want to agree with #65. Massive amounts of foreign aid(read handouts) has not resulted in much progress in Africa.

    A country like Mali needs basic concepts that allow capital to florish and market economies to function.

    Things like…..

    Stable government (no more tribal corruption)
    Contract law (ability to enforce contracts)
    Property rights. (Like a county recorder of deeds to record proper ownership of land)

    All the foriegn aid in the world can put a bandaid on some of the problems but will never address the underlying issues. Really what happens with a lot of foreign aid is it ends up in Swiss bank accounts for the jet-setting elites in power.

    There is little or no doubt that there is scriptural injunction to help the poor. I largely agree with the original post and with the end of #66. The issue to me then is how to implement helping the poor. This is where I think the West has seriously mishandled things.

  69. Mansfield, bbell,

    I think you’re misreading Theroux, at least insofar as you are applying his words to what Steve is saying here.

    In the third paragraph of the NYT piece, Theroux states:

    I am not speaking of humanitarian aid, disaster relief, AIDS education or affordable drugs. Nor am I speaking of small-scale, closely watched efforts like the Malawi Children’s Village. I am speaking of the “more money” platform: the notion that what Africa needs is more prestige projects, volunteer labor and debt relief

    .

    Sure, we need to be wise. Some kinds of help aren’t really help, and I am as tired as anybody else of people who jet around the globe living like rock stars even as they hector everybody else about the need to sacrifice. But that isn’t what Steve is talking about. The question is: What are WE going to do?

  70. Mark IV,

    I do not want to give the impression that I am opposed to well thought out efforts to help the poor in 3rd world countries. My own service hours on my mission involved feeding peanut butter sandwiches to orphans in poor areas of Namibia. I have seen a hungry childs eyes light up with joy at a proffered PB Sandwich. My contention is that those types of efforts help in a limited manner but do not in any way address the underlying problems that create the conditions that allow large scale poverty to exist and thrive.

  71. Mark IV, that’s about right. I know that there are loads of problems with all of these systems, unquestionably so. But objections of these kinds strike me, particularly in light of the needs of the moment, as just another self-imposed barrier to aid. It is just so easy for smart rich folks like us to come up with reasons not to help the poor, and increasingly so.

  72. Just want to add one thought on a trivial side-issue discussed above:

    I understand that the church uses 100% of fast offering and humanitarian services donations for aid and relief efforts. This is because the church pays its overhead expenses using other donations (i.e., tithing funds). Any other charity could do the same thing: for example, Oxfam could solicit contributions specifically for overhead expenses, and then claim that all other “aid” donations were used 100% for relief purposes.

    I do not doubt that LDS Humanitarian Services is a great charity to support. It is hard to compare its overhead to other organizations because of the way the church accounts for its expenses and the lack of financial transparency.

  73. Thanks for this thoughtful (and thought-provoking) post, Steve. As one who has lived many years at various times in developing countries with pervasive poverty, I have gone through the range of emotions numerous times as I’ve tried to determine how much to give, and in what ways.

    Many of the pros and cons of various ways of giving have been explored on this thread, and I’m grateful to have been reminded of some good ways to give.

    Comment #53 (m & m’s) comment mentioned two points that I think are very important:
    1) LDS Humanitarian Services is a great option for helping the poor
    2) Let’s not jump to uncharitable conclusions about how the Church and other people use their resources.

    The LDS Church is really doing amazing things now. Melissa DM (#62) mentioned just one of the initiatives it is involved in. And the Church does take care of the overhead expenses and use lots of missionary and member volunteer labor.

    Fast Offerings also go 100% to those in need; thus increasing our monthly contribution is an effective and simple way to give more anonymously.

    Also, there are many private charitable organizations that have been started by LDS (many of them returned missionaries), and which work with locals in developing countries. One which I admire and have personally observed at work in Latin America is Ascend: a Humanitarian Alliance http://ascendalliance.org/index.php

    I agree with m & m that our responses to poverty, as individuals or families, need to be determined through earnest prayer. They will no doubt change over time, as our circumstances change. But it’s easy to get stuck in a rut, and not shift our giving gears when our income increases over time.

    Reading discussions like this helps me to re-examine my priorities, and (I hope) be more sensitive to the promptings of the Spirit as I consider how to be a wiser and more generous steward of the material goods I have right now.

  74. annahannah says:

    Thank you.

  75. Christina says:

    For those of you who feel skittish about donating money or unsure about how to give money to a charity operating in parts unknown, how about looking around your local community for needs to serve? I guarantee you are within arms reach of children without food to eat, youth who aren’t graduating from high school, adults who can’t support their own families. Give locally. Act locally. These are your brothers and sisters.

  76. For those of you who feel skittish about donating money

    Christina,
    I do not for a moment wish to close my eyes to some of the difficulties presented by donating to charities, but I have to agree with others that some of this just feels like an excuse not to give.

    Let me tell you what money I have spent so far today:

    £.60 – Diet Coke
    £2.50 – Thai chicken and crispy bacon baguette (yum!)
    £.50 – Cadbury’s Twirl
    £.80 – Banana milk

    Now, obviously I have to eat. But I could have fed my body in cheaper — and healthier — ways than £4.40 ($8).

    Why do I not feel “skittish” about giving $2 to Coca Cola and Cadbury, and yet I lose sleep over whether a $2 donation to Oxfam is of any use?

    My plan: I am going to take money from an unnecessary pleasure this month and make a donation. This may mean a month of more spartan eating, for example. It’s a pathetic gesture, really, but it’s a start.

  77. Steve Evans says:

    Christina, that’s totally true, and acting locally is something incredibly important — I just naturally gravitate towards these (seemingly) more urgent crises of mass starvation.

    RoAnn, I like LDS Humanitarian Services a lot, and begrudge no one who wants to work through them. Similarly, I don’t care much to talk about how the Church uses its resources. I think it’s totally a red herring that threatens to distract us from our immediate duties to aid the poor.

  78. Thanks Steve for this post. I’d been thinking about my willingness to give and sacrifce since Sam’s post on Sunday got me thinking about Wendell Berry and I re-read this poem (which I love).

    (Opening myself up to criticism) we have been trying to institute a “philosophy of giving” where we are trying to balance out our wants and needs. For example, if we need a new car what will a basic car cost? Anything over and above it that is nicer and more costly we have to be able to donate the same amount to help the poor. If we can’t afford the double cost, then we can’t have the luxury. This seems to work better for big purchases ie. holidays, home improvements but we still have a long way to go in regards to our daily living eg. Ronan’s comment. Do we really need pizza on a Friday night, an ice cream cone, etc.

  79. Christina says:

    Steve/Ronan,
    I am not in any way trying to undermine the importance of say, global hunger. I just think that we sometimes overlook urgent, critical needs in our own communities for flashier “international” problems. Both types of problems are urgent, and we ought to contribute as needed both locally and globally. I just felt that the conversation was ignoring what happens before our eyes.

  80. Steve Evans says:

    Christina, sure, I can see your point. I guess it’s my experience that people are just not doing much, period, whether it’s local or global. I worry that people will use this “but there’s so much to do RIGHT HERE!” as an excuse to end up doing nothing at all.

  81. I think you are right, Steve, in thinking that we can end up doing nothing because we get overwhelmed by the magnitude of the problem.

    We realize we can’t do everything, and then throw up our hands–anything we might do is only a drop in the ocean, right?.

    That’s a cop out, and also a common, strong temptation that we have to continually fight to resist.

  82. For those who have asked about how the Church’s Humanitarian Aid fund can operate with 0% overhead, part of the answer is that the church absorbs the overhead from other areas, but not so much from tithing. The Church has been a shrewd investor, and most of those “overhead” expenses for so many programs comes from the profit on investments. Similarly, the Perpetual Education Fund only loans the interest earned on the fund that members donate to it, thus preserving the ability to continue to support and grow the program, helping more individuals as the fund grows. The church also works closely in other countries with organizations like Oxfam and others to avoid duplicating efforts, and thus preserving the donations by keeping even the absorbed overhead as low as possible. Provident living, indeed.

  83. BTW, Ray’s counsel about reducing your debt so you can be freer to support charitable causes is good advice. Also, even if you can’t donate much in terms of money, every charitable organization, locally and nationally, need volunteers. Most of us could spare a few hours a month volunteering locally, even for international groups. That’s also an area I need to do more in myself.

  84. Any action is good action. Many of us stay paralyzed by indecision and ignorance. We see large scale problems and feel helpless to effect real change. Winston Churchill said, “The only thing that will help evil flourish is for good men to do nothing.” This is where we are caught. The discussion over the best way to give or the best way to effect change will keep us from ever making a difference. It doesn’t matter if it’s a jar of peanut butter at your local food pantry, paying a car repair for a single mom, or building a school in a developing country. Each is good. Each is enough if it’s what you can do today or this year. The point is for all good men (and women) to do something. We must believe in the power of one person to effect real change even if it’s just for one person. Can you imagine the impact if each of us just did one thing within our grasp? Don’t deliberate long hours over numbers. Just pick an amount and give it. Just pick a person and help them the best way you know how. Out of small and simple things…it doesn’t have to be grand. It just has to be good. It just has to be the thing that another person could not do for themselves. I mean, isn’t that what we have each been given?

  85. One piece of advice: be smart about it. Find out if your employer will match contributions — you could multiply your effect. Find out if you can donate using a credit card that will give you miles or points. But don’t waste time being smart.

  86. And, Steve, you asked what each of us was doing for the poor. In our little corner we are organizing a garage sale to fund a loan through Kiva. We are gathering donated items from friends, neighbors, and ward members. We are focusing on getting children involved. We are soliciting donations (gift certificates, etc.) from local businesses to be given away in drawings for those who spend various amounts of money. We are soliciting free advertising from television and radio stations. We are looking to earn a minimum of $2,000. That should be an easy number, considering we made almost $400 in one morning some years ago as college students with only junk to sell. I think we can do much more.

    We really want our kids (and the other kids participating) to see that one person, including a child, can make a significant difference for people across the world. We want them to understand that the items they donate and sell translate into real opportunity and change for someone who could not otherwise have this chance. This is the great thing about Kiva- the chance to see who receives the loan and how their life changes. It’s great for kids. Our next adventure will be to find a meaningful way in which our kids can participate in helping in our own community. We want to start young so that looking for opportunities to serve is a way of life for them.

  87. Has someone mentioned http://www.Heifer.org? For Christmas, our family bought a cow for a family in South America, and now they have a means of sustained income, not just some one-time food to eat.

    Also, look around your community. There are hungry people everywhere. In our community, there are places to volunteer in migrant transitional housing, food and care facilities, and SOO many other places where there are children who aren’t eating right in our community. That would be a way to volunteer your time if you didn’t have the gumption to just send a check.

  88. Re: kevinf (#84)–

    It’s important to recognize that it costs the church money to provide relief aid, just like it costs other organizations money. Sure, the church pays its overhead using other funds (like tithing or investment income), but there is overhead nonetheless. It is difficult to compare the “efficiency” of LDS Humanitarian Services to other organizations because there is no financial reporting. I agree with Steve in #78 — I don’t care to analyze how the church spends its relief money. I just don’t want any reader here to think that the church can magically distribute its aid for free.

    Furthermore, you point out that the church sometimes works through other organizations, like Oxfarm. That means that some of that money is likely used to pay Oxfarm’s overhead.

    (I will now turn off the finance side of my brain and listen to my bleeding heart that Steve is exhorting in his post.)

  89. I’m pretty good at being motivated to give when there’s some big thing; to get out of that mindset, my wife and I have budgeted an amount (smaller than we’d like, but within our means) to give to charitable causes every month. That way, we don’t just give when a typhoon hits or when there’s earthquakes, floods, or famine. We’re not nailed down as to the organization we give to (and sometimes we go through the Church, other times through private charities), but knowing that every month we’re going to give at least $X helps us to think of causes that could use our support.

  90. sol, that garage sale idea is a great one.

    Sam, so long as you can still afford Flor de Mayo.

  91. I haven’t read all of the comments yet, but thank you, Kris, for the last paragraph in #79.

  92. Aaron Brown says:

    Note that many employers will match any of its employees’ charitable donations, while some will only match those that go to local causes. For example, here in Seattle, I believe Boeing will not match donations to international causes.

    For those interested in land rights for the poor in the 3rd World (and I agree this is a crucial and often overlooked problem), feel free to donate to the Rural Development Institute, here in Seattle: http://www.rdiland.org. They’re a great organization.

    Also, while we’re not dealing with immediate poverty relief, I’d be remiss not to plug the start-up non-profit on whose board I serve: Community Empowerment Network (www.communityempowernet.org). Check it out.

    Aaron B

  93. Aaron Brown says:

    Also, if anyone reading this is in the Seattle area and maybe wants to attend a free, low-pressure fundraiser this weekend for poor children in Nepal (with free Nepali food), shoot me an email (aachbr at yahoo.com), and I’ll tell you more about it.

    Aaron B

  94. Just for perspective:

    While serving my mission, I lived in the same apartment twice with a native Japanese missionary. He was the 14th or 16th generation (I forget) oldest son of the local Buddhist priestly line – his father’s only son – the only heir to a long heritage of spiritual leadership of their town. The aspirations of hundreds of years rested on his shoulders. After he met the missionaries, gained a testimony, then joined the Church, his father publicly and ceremonially acknowledged his dishonorable death, he was expelled from school and fired from his job, and he had to reconstruct an entirely new life from scratch. He worked and saved for multiple years in order to pay for his own mission, then lived on 2/3 of the recommended minimum cost – because that’s all he had been able to save and he was reaching the maximum age for missionary service.

    My mission ended in October, so I gave him my winter coat and boots a couple of months before I left. (he had no boots of his own on the northern, bitterly cold island of Hokkaido) I found out a few days before returning home that he had given the coat and boots to an investigator who “needed them more”. That was over 20 years ago, but I will never forget him – never.

    The full story is at:

    http://www.mormonmomma.com/index.php/2008/the-eternal-smile-a-perspective-on-joy/

    As kevinf said, not every effort has to be given in cash. Service can be given, and commodities (clothing, books, toys, etc.) can be shared without costing a dime.

  95. Thomas Parkin says:

    “As kevinf said, not every effort has to be given in cash. Service can be given, and commodities (clothing, books, toys, etc.) can be shared without costing a dime.”

    Friendship is free, too. I know when I’m having tough times, just having someone to talk with where financial or other troubles aren’t foregrounded is a great blessing. Where the unspoken but acknowledged reality is that I am a complete human being with needs and desires beyond subsisting – beyond the work I do or do not have, and beyond the current difficult circumstances of my life.

    ~

  96. MikeInWeHo says:

    re: 77 That’s a lovely comment, Ronan, and also a great idea. I think I’ll do the same. (BTW: Is the Diet Coke some kind of antidote for the Cadbury’s?)

    Wasn’t there a recent article in Harpers (or maybe Atlantic Monthly) which argued that all the assistance poured into Africa over the past century has in fact been counter-productive and has made the continent worse off than it would have otherwise been? Not sure I agree, but clearly something has gone wrong there.

    Which country has raised more people out of abject poverty faster than any other in recorded history? China. How did they do it? Unleashing hard-core capitalism.

    What does a hypocritical, liberal urban consumer like me do with that knowledge?? Become a Republican?

  97. Mike,
    The Diet Coke is like a carbon offset.

  98. Thanks, Steve. You ask how we give?

    This year my whole family did the “donation to a charity in lieu of any gifts” thing.

    I have to admit I’m not very good at regularly giving to charities, but I do like to take opportunities to help if I can, like going on Habitat builds or working at an orphanage or whatever, but unfortunately, I don’t usually go out of my way. Opportunities crop up every now and then and I take advantage of them.

    The global hunger problem is real and scary. There are a lot of factors going on here that money can help, but can’t really solve. Perhaps aside from a fast offering, we could fast for the land and people who need to use it (I’m thinking of the weather conditions that have ruined a lot of SE Asia and China’s rice crops this year).

    Would anyone be up for a Bloggernacle-wide fast day?

  99. Oh, another thing I do (I’m a teacher) is work with kids and we raise money for various charities.

    And btw, you’re making me feel awfully guilty about my family’s trip to Paris that we’re planning for the fall. As it should be, I guess.

  100. #97 I agree. Another good example is South Korea of how capitalism works to alleviate poverty.

  101. StillConfused says:

    I am interested by the food shortage. I am also interested by the mandated use of fuels which are made from grain — the staple of the human diet. I would love to know how much of the food shortage is caused by this political mandate.

    Also, please be very careful when giving to charities. There are a number of actual and perceived abuses in the charitable arena. Closely review the charities that you are considering and go to sites such as guidestar.org for more information about the charity.

  102. One more practical suggestion, mentioned by meems in #99:

    Last Christmas, our family took the cost of one gift per family member and donated it as Fast Offerings instead of buying that gift. This can be done on birthdays and any other occasion where gifts normally would be exchanged, with the money going to any charity.

  103. Great discussion. Thanks for hosting it, Steve.

    The thing I love about Heifer International is that they teach vet care and sustainable farming as part of their work. Then they have the recipients pass on the gift. The family gives a gift of their animals’ offspring to another needy family and teaches them to care for the animals as well.

    Barbara Kingsolver wrote an amazing essay about her experience participating in one of Heifer’s gifting ceremonies. I was a gushy, weeping convert by the time I finished reading it.

  104. MikeInWeHo says:

    re: 98
    A carbs-on-the-waist offset, perhaps?
    Yes, and just about as useful as a carbon offset (but you almost-Europeans are such suckers for that kind of thing).

    Bbell and I agree on something. There is hope for us all yet! Reminds me of these two.

  105. Eric Russell says:

    Steve, amen on all counts. But I would go further. As has been mentioned, time can be as valuable as money. And sitting and writing checks can easily become an excuse not to give of our time. Speaking introspectively, I know I need to continue to reduce time expenditures on film, tv, books and even blogs. As Elder Oaks pointed out recently, we justify our use of our time and money by telling ourselves we are doing good things with them, yet there is ever still much better things that we could be using them on.

  106. so I’m a good person because I spend money in the raw capitalism that happens in Iquitos? I mean, I’ve always thought I was a good person but this makes it pretty clear.

    So you know, if any of you really want to contribute, move to a poor place and start spending money. Iquitos is nice. Really. Nice. (I need friends)

  107. Steve Evans says:

    Amri, you’re a good person because you’re fun to be around.

  108. Chad Too says:

    I love this thread and I’m very proud of the way comments have been handled. It’s very good for us to remember our borthers and sisters in need.

    I have two suggestions for those for whom cash might be tight right now and a monetary donation/offering may be beyond there abilities, but really want to find a way to help. These suggestions are decidedly local in nature, but charity begins at home, no?

    1) Give blood, plasma, or platelets. These literally save lives and are needed daily. I had never heard of giving platelets before, but boy was I grateful when my critically ill son needed them. A man in my ward has a standing appointment to donate platelets every Saturday morning.

    2) Look for buy-one-get-one sales on non-perishables at the grocery store and give the extra can/packet to a local food shelter. You still feed your family but you also help to feed someone else’s.

    Thanks, Steve, for the righteous reminders.

  109. Chad Too says:

    Oops! Food pantry, not food shelter.

  110. Nora Ray says:

    I am still hung up on the “enjoying life” comment way back at the beginning of these posts. Why does it take some kind of extravagance to feel joy? I enjoy life most when I am serving others. I would much rather my children learned to enjoy themselves through service, financial or physical, than to think they need a fancy vacation or the latest video game system to be happy. Once you start feeling that you need more, you soon end up feeling that you can never have enough. That doesn’t leave much to share.

  111. cj douglass says:

    Thanks for the reminder Steve. As I wade in a sea of bleeding hearts here in NYC, its nice to hear of someone actually doing something about it. I would say though that your call to action compels me to do something that was alluded to in the Zeitcast: quit blogging. Sure, besides the usual banter, some have claimed the great value the ‘nacle has had in keeping them from leaving the church/enhancing their church experience beyond the 3-block. That’s certainly worth something. There’s no sin in reading right? I guess it goes back to priorities. If I’m making a list of things I don’t have time for, maybe its not so bad if blogging is toward the top.(opposed to other things…)

  112. #108, that is another good reason to move to Iquitos.

  113. Chad Too says:

    small errata: I just found on that my friend who donates platelets donates twice a month. Apparently that’s the upper limit for donating.

  114. Steve,

    I have mixed emotions about this and several of the thoughts posted on this thread.

    First of all, I don’t think that anyone would question the righteous desire to help the woman you alluded to in Haiti. The plight of her and her children is devastating and heart-wrenching.

    But, is your donation to Oxfam really going to help this (or any other) person in need? Probably not. Does it help you feel better about yourself for doing something, anything, for others? Absolutely.

    For as long as I can remember, Haiti has been a wastland where suffering is the norm for too many of its citizens. The problem with Haiti is Haiti. It is a system problem. It is a government problem. No amount of money from foreign aid organizations, however worthy, will fix that. That is why I have such difficulty with “calls to action” which involve a credit card or check. Is there a way that I can change the system corruption in Haiti (or any other chronically plighted land)? I don’t know. I wish I did. It definitely should and is a matter of prayer for me.

    Several in the thread have also commented on how we can evaluate our spending habits, and give up something and use the difference to make a difference. Why? The extension of this line of reasoning could go on forever, even to the point where one could argue “having another child is too expensive. I think that I should not have a child and use that money instead for…” and fill in whatever worthy purpose you choose. In fact, in today’s Living section of The Oregonian (our local newspaper), there is a big story about how many families are having only one child because it is “better for the environment.” The article claims that one American child consumes more of the natural resources of the world than an entire African village! How do you deal with that dilemma?

    There is no rebuttal for the injunction that Christ gave to each of us as you state. But caring for the poor does not always mean the financially poor. We recently moved into our current ward that for the most part is well off financially. Despite that fact, we have quickly come to realize that there are so many ways that we can strive to follow the Lord’s counsel to succor the weak and lift up the hands which hang down, that we do not have enough time in the day to accomplish what we would like.

    My family attempts to give of our time and resources to the best of our ability, and we strive to do it in a way that our left hand doesn’t know what our right hand is doing.

    Matt Evans is not morally deficient for wanting to allow his kids to go on a nice scouting trip, just as you are not morally superior to the rest of us for writing a check to Oxfam while we stive to live the teachings of Christ to the best of our ability in our own sphere of influence.

  115. Clayton, I appreciate the spirit in which you made your comments. You’ve made a few errors, though, I think —

    “But, is your donation to Oxfam really going to help this (or any other) person in need? Probably not.”

    I couldn’t disagree more. There’s every reason to believe that a donation to Oxfam will indeed help someone in need, and I’m surprised you think otherwise.

    “Does it help you feel better about yourself for doing something, anything, for others? Absolutely.”

    Not really. Not that much. Maybe you’ve misconstrued the reason for the post.

    “The problem with Haiti is Haiti. It is a system problem.”

    Yes, it is, but that cannot excuse us from trying to perform humanitarian aid and get food to people immediately.

    “Several in the thread have also commented on how we can evaluate our spending habits, and give up something and use the difference to make a difference. Why? The extension of this line of reasoning could go on forever…”

    I would think the intention behind this would be fairly obvious, but there’s no indication from the commenters or any reason to extend this fairly innocuous suggestion to lead us to cease to have children or anything so extreme. Your argument here is not supported.

    “Matt Evans is not morally deficient for wanting to allow his kids to go on a nice scouting trip, just as you are not morally superior to the rest of us for writing a check to Oxfam while we stive to live the teachings of Christ to the best of our ability in our own sphere of influence.”

    This is the most problematic thing you say. First — Matt Evans has nothing to do with this thread. Next, it’s pretty clear from the scriptures that a desire for nice things and luxuries can, in many (if not most circumstances) indeed be not only morally deficient or worse, sinful.

    As for my moral superiority, and your reference to your right hand not knowing what your left is doing… well, you’re free to think what you want. It’s clear to me that you’ve missed the point of the post. But if you want to use a fairly harmless post about giving to the poor as a personal excuse to not give to the poor, more power to you.

  116. Peter LLC says:

    Another good example is South Korea of how capitalism works to alleviate poverty.

    That and massive amounts of government intervention. To its credit, the Korean government is working with UNIDO and a few African countries to see if the Korean model will work there.

    But I think more to the point of this thread is a country’s level of official development assistance, which in Korea’s case is embarrassingly low, despite having “made it.” Kind of like my level of assistance.

  117. Steve,

    I think that the point of the post is clear. You are asking people to do more to help those in need. I agree with the premise and am trying to do my part to follow the example of the Savior.

    I am sorry that you do not feel better by donating your means to Oxfam. I would think that a gift freely given should help you feel the Spirit, and have a desire to do even more for others.

    A desire for nice things in most circumstances is not morally deficient nor is it sinful. A desire for nice things to the extent that you place those things above God as idol worship certainly is.

    And to say that I am using a harmless post as a personal excuse to not give to the poor is interesting. I am not sure how you could gather that from my comment.

  118. Steve Evans says:

    Clayton — fine, have it your way, move along. As I’ve said numerous times, I’m simply not interested in debate on this thread.

  119. Antonio Parr says:

    Steve’s post is moving, even prophetic.

    The bottom line is that we are all called to self-examination, and undoubtedly each of each can do more than we are doing.

    In the end, it is not how much we gain but how much we gave that will matter. To quote the immensely talented singer/songwriter Ben Harper:


    See coz Mr when you’re rattling on heavens gate
    By then it is too late
    Coz Mr when you get there they don’t ask what you saved
    All they’ll wanna know, Mr, is what you gave

  120. Great discussion Steve. I think that our society has yet to come to terms with its relative prosperity in the face of the 3rd World.

    I also think that the subject spills into so many elements we may or may not choose to recognize.
    One example was mentioned in #42. Happily and sadly, liberals and convervatives both can justify their vote in terms of world hunger (and how the other party has failed the 3rd World in some respect.) I am not sure exactly which camp delivers the goods quicker or more effectively, but I do know that the fasted route from A to B is straight. In other words, (hope I don’t offend anyone),but I am voting Democrat in November…if only for the track record of the opposition in the past 8 years. It would also be nice to have a president who inpires citizens into action by force of example. He or she can start with speaking in complete sentences. Remember when presidents did that?

    I am just gullible enough to believe that an administration that is concerned about the Public Education and Healthcare of it’s own people is more likely to also care about the welfare of other nations. Oh yes, and it is about the money.

    My apologies to anyone who believes that this subject is not related to the thread at hand….

  121. “…prosperity relative to the 3rd World…

  122. I’m proud of you for this post, Steve. This subject worries me constantly. There are children who don’t get adequate nutrition to grow up without brain damage, or indeed, at all. And we haven’t fixed it yet. It’s entirely fixable, I feel sure.

    So far what I’ve found to do, little as it is, is to build up a rotating kiva fund. I’ve got one of my own and I administer another, a Perpetual Microfinance Fund, for a group of forum friends. I feel called to do much more, though.

    I think we can solve this, given the will, intelligence, and determination. I don’t think we need have the poor always with us.

  123. Steve Evans says:

    Thanks Tatiana. I have a real respect for what you’re doing. It’s pretty incredible.

  124. - Interesting thread.
    – I paid JPY650 for my coke at lunch today.
    – I don’t think Clayton deserved the brush off he got from Steve Evans. I don’t agree with all of what either have said but your hypersensitive reply Steve made doubt your motives for the first time in the post. Whatever, that’s just my reaction.

    That said, this has made me interested in giving more. Can I request a sum-up list of the charities that have been listed here in a single post. I know it’s lazy of me but I’d like to take the list home for an FHE with my kids to make some decisions. Maybe we’ll make a monthly budget and vote each month as a family where we’ll send it.

    Maybe I should fire the Philippina cleaning lady that we have come once a week and give the money away. On the other hand maybe I should just double what we pay her so she can send it to her family at home (of course, she wouldn’t accept).

  125. Aaron, you paid JPY650 for a Coke? Go to Jusco, man!

  126. Steve Evans says:

    okey-dokey, Aaron. Start with charitywatch.org and go from there.

  127. Jennifer says:

    My dad always taught us that God gave us all we had. We tithe so that the Kingdom can be built as He sees fit. We are allowed to keep the other 90% to use to build the Kingdom as we see fit. Tithing is not the triumph of agency; paying tithing is easy. The triumph comes in how we spend the other 90%.

    It is a formula that has blessed all his children and has protected us from the moral dangers that can come from being hyper-educated westerners living in affluence. This pattern of thinking completely changes your relationship with money, and is a great rubric for making spending decisions, both the big (no to the BMW, yes to a well functioning car) and (in the aggregate) small, (no to constantly eating out just because we can, yes to the quick drive through because Dad is at yet another church meeting and mom is feeling a little overwhelmed). It also makes it so very painless to “give”.

    There are lots of ways to build the Kingdom, it certainly means taking care of all God’s children, not just those within the Church. You give your children what they need to become contributing members, and then you extend that blessing to as many people as you can reach. Other than my membership in the church, this rubric is the best gift my parents ever gave.

  128. BeckySueby says:

    Wow. This post and discusssion is really thought-provoking. I read here a lot and usually really enjoy the posts, but I haven’t felt “challenged and changed” by anything I’ve read in the past 6 mo since discovering this blog. Now I certainly do.

    I am at the lower end of the financial scale here in the US and have often felt overwhelmed and subsequently paralyzed by the immensity of the plight of the world’s poor to whom I would seem filthy rich. I have often felt that I “cannot give because I have not,” but, in actuality, I don’t give often because I think “what good is my miniscule amount going to do?” and because, since there are times that, even if I am wise and careful in my spending, I don’t have ‘two dimes to rub together to keep warm’ and I can’t be consistent in the amount I would give, I think “what good is it to give one month and not the next?”

    I stand corrected by several of the comments to this post and now see that even in my current “relative poverty” the little bit that I could contribute can help, if only fractionally, the overall amount in the bucket of contributions. Plus, I can look for ways to contribute w/ time and effort when I can’t do so financially.

    Thank you for this post Steve. I really think that it and the discussion it prompted will be the catalyst to change my life – at least in the way I view how I can contribute and work to improve the world in some way.

  129. Thanks, Steve, for this inspiring post. It’s so rare that we move beyond talking to acting for good. Thanks for setting a great example.

    Plus I like how Norbert (#64) summed it up.

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