Giving a task never finished

Photo by Vicki Harris

Photo by Vicki Harris

Hardly a day passes without an appeal for a financial contribution showing up in my mailbox or coming over the telephone. Today I have received an invitation to help sustain a school in Bethlehem where Muslim, Christian and Jewish children are learning tolerance, an appeal I sadly refused. I also purchased a children's book today to bring to my Rotary Club which is collecting children's books for the library system.

My guess is that you receive many such well-meaning appeals, too. They come from human rights groups, environmental groups, colleges and universities, private K-12 schools, organizations fighting cancer and rare diseases, clubs dedicated to helping the families of deceased law enforcement officials and well-respected local helping agencies.

Perhaps you wish you could contribute to every worthwhile agency, but there are so many to choose from, and sometimes whether one responds depends on the day of the week and how that person is feeling. Though this not how one should make choices, I suspect it's how many select the requests that come. My wife and I pledge our first ten percent to God through our church but still struggle to decide how to respond to other requests.

This column is prompted by statistics reported by David Campbell and Robert Putnam, co-authors of a 2010 book called "American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us." One finding these university professors report in their book is that 80 percent of all Americans claim to have made a gift to charity last year. From a brief survey I have done, this ranks our nation near the very top of the world community in the number of citizens who take money out of their own pocket to help others.

What is even more interesting about Campbell and Putnam's report is their report on the giving habits of Americans in relation to their religious or secular background. The authors report that of the 20 percent of Americans who are "least religious" 66 percent of them gave money to charity, a pretty impressive figure. But in contrast, of the 20 percent who fall into the "most religious" category of Americans, 94 percent give money to charity. Campbell and Putnam conclude that -- by their measurements -- religious Americans are four times as generous as their secular neighbors and that religious Americans give liberally both to religious and secular causes.

I am intrigued by these numbers, and not as a matter of pride. Every major religion teaches modesty and humility and these findings do not give persons of faith the right to boast about their giving because there is so much good left undone. Faithful religious adherents know they can never give enough, that there is always one more worthy cause.

Though both secular and religious people inevitably will be overwhelmed by the good left undone, "American Grace" seems to indicate that the religious sector may feel more anguish about unfinished work. That's not a bad thing.

Contact the Rev. Creede Hinshaw at Wesley Monumental United Methodist Church in Savannah at creede@wesleymonumental.org.