September 4, 2012

Do religious people give more than unchurched?

Actually, I still don't know the answer to that.  We have commonly assumed that conservative religious people give more than others.  I have always had a little problem with that assumption, just in that the idea that you give to pay for air conditioning for your church is not, inherently, a charitable gift.  It certainly isn't inherently giving to people who need it.

Now this essay suggests there are studies that suggest that even church goers give less than they think.  And not just church goers, mind you.  Part of the problem here is not unique to people of faith, though they suggest that religious people believe that they should give even if they don't.

From 1968 to 2009, member giving to church finances as a percentage of income decreased from 2.45 percent to 2.04 percent, a decline of 17 percent. Far more dramatic has been the decline in giving for benevolences, or the broader mission of the church ranging from supporting seminaries to feeding the poor. Per member giving for benevolences dropped 48 percent, from .66 percent of income in 1968 to .34 percent in 2009, empty tomb reported.

One reason, said Sylvia Ronsvalle of empty tomb, is the church did not offer a positive alternative to the rampant consumerism in the affluent post-World War II society. Religious individuals today may be confused about what constitutes successful giving since all many of them are asked to do is the minimum to keep the local congregation going.

"We've succeeded at maintenance," she said. "But is that what we're supposed to be succeeding at? No."

In Smith, Emerson and Snell's book, the data shows, among other things, that one out of five U.S. Christians gives no money to charity or that nearly three-quarters give less than 2 percent of their income. "The majority of American Christians are actually quite ungenerous financial givers" given the teachings of their faith and their potential for generosity, they reported.

"It would appear that American Christians have much soul searching to do about the question of money," the authors concluded.

1 comment:

leighton said...

Ron Sider's Rich Christians In An Age of Hunger is also an interesting read on this topic, though his data are at least a couple of decades old by now. I'm sure it's heresy to suggest that since the bible spends upwards of 2000 verses talking about how people treat the poor and manage their money, those issues are commensurately more important than political hot topics that have half dozen verses or less to their name.