Generosity Redux

December 29, 2004 — Leave a comment

My last post (which I will fully admit was a bit snippy) garnered a comment that suggested that I am quick to critique, but short on solutions. It’s a valid concern that I am willing to hear. Before I provide a couple of thoughts on ways that we might give I do want to note that my comments on generousity, or more particularly, the U.S. response to those who suggested that Western countries are stingy, arose from those who seemed quick to attack the one who questioned our ethic of giving. “The lady doth protest too much..” Shakespeare wrote in Hamlet, and my sense is that our protestations come from the knowledge within that we don’t give as much as we could, that self interest limits our giving, that we do buy into the American notion that personal property is ours to do what we will with it rather than being a gift from God to be shared as God chooses. Of course, I could be wrong about that, but the question of proportional giving continues to be prevalent in the church, and I believe is relavent in the broader world as well.

Anyway, here are a few off the wall ideas as to how those of us in the United States could make a special contribution to better help those in Asia:

  1. The current adult employed U.S. population is somewhere around 189 million persons. If each of us were to contribute $100 (about 1/3 of one percent of the median U.S. income) we would be able to donate around 18 billion dollars toward relief efforts in Asia. I’m willing to have a special tax assessment of $100 if it means that it will contribute to the effort there.
  2. There are about 169,000 congregations that make up the top ten denominations in the United States. What if every congregation in this were to give $500 toward Asian relief? We would be able to give 84.5 million toward these efforts.
  3. The Gross Domestic Product of the U.S. is around $11 trillion. Currently the $2 billion the U.S. gives in humanitarian aid represents .15 percent of the GDP. What would happen if our national giving equaled the national philanthropy rate of 2 percent of income? Frankly that gets into numbers that are too large for me to comprehend.
  4. What if the the ten richest folk in the U.S. were to donate 1 percent of their net worth toward Asian relief? Relief agencies would see 1.6 billion dollars flow into their coffers.

The statistics could go on and on. The issue is not the ability to give, but the willingness to give. I have seen that first hand in my own state, a state with one of the most regressive systems of taxation in the country, a state that is consistently in the bottom of most lists regarding school resources, and a state in which the citizens overwhelmingly reject any reform that would deal with these issues. I too don’t like paying taxes any more than the next guy — just ask me in April when the self-employment tax picture comes into focus and I am crying in a puddle on the floor. Yet, when faced with a humanitarian disaster of epic proportions, I too need to tighten the belt, drink a few less Cokes, and help out.

Money isn’t everything. India has already turned down financial assistance, recognizing that the needs it has can be contained within their own resources (something that probably says more about Indian generosity than ours). But in the days ahead, money is going to be important to restore this region to some level of sustenance. We have the resources to help. Will we do so?

Finally, if you want to make a donation to relief efforts you can do so through my tribe at www.methodistrelief.org, to Oxfam, or via The Network for Good.

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