Let me apologize upfront for my attitude and hard to suppress anger on this one.
Recently, I received a high quality mailing from a national, church-based organization offering me their unique services. The really slick, multi-colored brochure promised a lot.
"Taking The Guess Work Out Of Your Benevolent Program. . ." the tag line read.
"How Do You Know That The Individual Seeking Assistance Really Needs It?" the inside heading asked me.
The promotional/sales piece provided the answer:
"That's the question that faces every church as they administer a benevolent program. Times truly have changed from when you could trust everyone that asked for help. Sad but true, it is common place for individuals to use the church. Many times they will travel from church to church receiving multiple help for a single need.
"How can you know where they have been and how much they have already received? Is it a real need, or are they simply living off benevolent organizations. Well, now there is a way that you can be sure."
The information goes on to unveil the web-based screening product that allows a church "benevolent program" 24/7 access to the records of other member organizations. The goal is to eliminate funding "professional beggars," while becoming "a better steward of God's money."
I hardly know how to respond.
This new "technology" tells me that the people behind many church "benevolent programs" don't understand much about poverty or what it means to really engage the so-called poor in a manner that builds relationships and community.
The fear-based control system presented here assumes that the funds being distributed belong to those who have control of them. Talk about building walls between the haves and have nots.
The paradigm underneath the solution to the perceived problem is all wrong.
"Benevolent programs" as a concept cannot move churches beyond paternalism.
Christian compassion should propel us to a much different place. Never mind all that could be noted here about working for a more just economy and society--an endeavor churches could and should pursue with significant success it seems to me. Where is the church leader who will ask why it is that people would resort to such measures to make it through life?
The obvious irony of this entire matter has to do with the scope and scale of church-based benevolent programs in general. Most churches do well to manage a "food closet." In fairness, many do much more than this. But how many churches go beyond programatic thinking when it comes to the poor?
Worrying about being "ripped off" by the poor runs counter to the open-hearted radicalism of Jesus--a challening worldview we need to explore deeply.
Possibly our overblown concerns about being taken advantage of says more about us than it does about "the poor."
"Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you."
Jesus (Matthew 5:42)
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