Sunday, November 27, 2005

Economics of Charity

I recently heard a sermon on the principle of tithing, or giving 10% of your gross income, to the church. The Old Testament law stated the first 10% of your income belongs to the Lord; it even spoke of anything less as stealing from God. (Genesis 14:18-20, Genesis 28:20-22, Numbers 18:21, Numbers 18:25-31, Deuteronomy 14:22-26, Deuteronomy 14:28-29, Malachi 3:10, Luke 11:42) Now, I know we are no longer under that law; we are no longer held to the law of tithing just as we are no longer required to sacrifice bulls for our sins, as Christ fulfilled the whole law (Matt 5:17). However, God did write the law for a reason and many principles are contained in them so that we would be saved from pain and/or be prosperous (Joshua 1:8). So, with that and Matt 6:21 in mind, I decided to do some research on the power of the law of tithing as it would be, if followed, in the United States. Here we go:

The average household income is $42,228 at 109,297,000 households for a total of $4,615,393,716,000.00 in annual personal income in the United States. Let’s assume, as a nation under God, that the citizens of the United States tithe as a whole, out of a love for God. The annual tithe from this group comes to about $461,539,371,600.00. (Actual estimates of annual church giving in the U.S. comes to about $17,200,000,000 or about 2.5% of the active church attendees after tax dollars, not gross income, or first fruits. (Deut 18:4)) Now, tithes are supposed to be used to run the church, pay the clergy, etc – so let’s say we decide that as a nation, 75% of our tithe, or $346,154,528,700.00, is needed to run our churches. In other words, under this assumption, the annual budget for Christian churches in the U.S. would be 20 times greater than their current budget. However, to be fair, since we are assuming that every household in the U.S. is tithing, we should also assume they are now all attending church (roughly tripling the number of Christian church attendees), thereby raising the churches overall annual budget requirements. (As in all persuasive estimations, I want to remain on the conservative side at all times.) Okay, after all that, we now we have a number: $115,384,842,900.00, which is the remaining 25%, after church expenses, of the United States tithe. From now on, we will lovingly refer to this dollar value as The Offering.

There are approximately 777,000,000 undernourished or starving people in the world, 194,000,000 of which are in Africa. Based on estimates from Mercy Corps and World Vision, it costs an average of $1/day to feed and give medical treatment to one person in Africa. If our giving equaled The Offering, we would be able to provide at least $1.63 per malnourished person in Africa every day, as long as we continue to give. To sum this up, the citizens of the United States, by offering a tithe, could wipe out starvation and curable disease in Africa as we know it. And that’s just the United States. Imagine if “High Standard of Living” households in Europe, Japan and Australia joined in as well. Starvation could be wiped out in India and Asia.

Let me take a little aside here… because I think these numbers are actually more powerful than they seem. Most poverty experts in Africa, Asia and India will agree that, except in very rare and extreme cases, starvation is not due to a lack of food. More often, it is due to the inability to move resources from one region to another because of a poor infrastructure. In other words, roads, bridges, trucks and rail stand in the way of curing world hunger more than weather, disease, thieves or food scarcity. If we were to invest in the infrastructure (longterm) with our tithe, rather than the short term of providing food – we may even teach a man to fish: Africa could feed itself. I realize I’m being very naïve in regards to the political instability, drought and the lack of agricultural knowledge in the region – but I think we could do a lot to affect the area with money and investment – as long as smarter people than me are in control of allocating the resources.

Ten percent. I know that’s a lot. But, I think in many cases, we need to see things from a slightly different perspective. “The earth is the Lord’s, and every thing in it, the world, and all who live in it…” (Psalm 24:1) and “‘The silver is mine and the gold is mine,’ declares the Lord Almighty” (Haggai 2:8). It’s all His. And, we, as children under grace, do not have to give tithe, even from what does not truly belong to us. God does not want us to give out of a desire to earn our salvation, to earn favor or blessings (though they seem to always abound) or out of compulsion. "Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver." (2 Corin 9:7) American materialism tells us we always need more – more car, more apartment, more clothes, more investment… we’re so good at storing treasure on earth where it will rot, meanwhile we are not storing anything in heaven, where it will last for eternity. I should add that in the early Christian (that’s post resurrection, new covenant churches) 10% tithe was assumed and considered the “floor” of their giving levels. 10% may just mean driving a Saturn instead of whatever is in your garage now… Lowering our standard of excessive living (relative to the rest of the world) by just 10% could completely change the world… it could wipe out starvation. When I ran these numbers, I assumed total U.S. participation – but if only the current Christian church attendees gave at this level, what an amazing difference we could make! The temporary and diminishing returns we would have received from buying that “new thing” could turn into eternal rewards. But, don’t wait on the rest of the world to answer this call, “be the change you want to see in the world.” -- Gandhi.

Finally, 1 Cor. 13:3 says “And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.” Giving, then, should only be a response to the love shown us when our inequities fell on Christ. It should be an outpouring of love onto the “least of these.” (Matt 25:45)

Sources: 2001 Census, The State of Church Giving Through 1998, Mercy Corps, World Vision, CIA World Factbook, Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies


Blogger Clay said...

...and you can add poor farming techniques for starvation. Many Africans refuse to change. Many crops today are shorter and produce a greater yield, but some people refuse to adjust.

Sorry, but I'm taking a soil science class and I thought I would never get to apply what I learned.

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