Charity and Love

Posted: 2012/03/01 in Stories, Words
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A friend of mine posted on Facebook—that great virtual town square—an article called The Lessons of Charity.

His wife gave $5 to a homeless man in Chicago. He responded, “What if he just uses it to buy drugs or alcohol?” Her response was, “That’s his choice. Once I chose to give him the money, it’s his. What gives you the right to decide for him?”

Phil Scarr’s thesis is that the spreading policy of drug testing welfare recipients is driven by a sense of moral superiority, and a desire by the rich, specifically the Republican Party, to further subjugate and humiliate the poor.

Well, I’ve been down this road too, and as I’m fond of saying, “It’s not that simple.” Now, I tend to avoid this road altogether. It makes me uncomfortable. According to Global Rich List, compared to the rest of the world, “I Am The 1%.” But I have given to poor people. I’ve given money, paid for a motel room (no place I would want to stay), bought bags of groceries, and filled up gasoline tanks. I’ve also stopped giving to one individual when I discovered that he was lying to my face. I’m now more likely to give through my church or food banks or the Salvation Army than directly. People who serve the poor full time through these agencies have all told me not to give money directly to the poor person on the street corner because they probably aren’t the neediest person and they very well might use it to buy alcohol or drugs.

I can’t speak for anyone else’s motives, but when I contemplate my own acts of charity, I feel a mixture of joy and shame. Until I read Mr. Scarr’s article, “moral superiority” never once crossed my mind. Now that I’ve read Mr. Scarr’s article, it crosses my mind, but without even slowing down. What does cross my mind when I give, and what I aim for, is love, “Saying and doing what’s truly in the other’s best interest, whether they deserve it or not, and with no strings attached.”

1 Corinthians 13, the Bible’s “love chapter” trotted out of context at many a wedding, drives a sharp wedge deeply between charity and love. The third verse says,

If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast,but do not have love, I gain nothing.

I bucked the trend and didn’t “like” the article on Facebook because Mr. Scarr does the very thing he condemns; he judges the motives of people (including me) who judge the intent of recipients of charity. The reason that I don’t want to make it possible for homeless people to obtain drugs and alcohol based on my act of charity has nothing to do with a sense of moral superiority. It’s because I don’t think that’s what loving them looks like. The reason I stopped helping the man who was trying to con me is the same reason I disciplined my daughter when she was trying to con me. It’s not in their best interest to reward that behavior. I explained my decision to both of them—to the man once, and to my daughter many times.

As with so many other things, so it is with charity. Ground yourself in love, and you just might get it right. Without love, your charity might do more harm than good.

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