Give to Street People?
Gary Hoag, the Generosity Monk; Andy Bales, the chief executive of Union Rescue Mission; and Ron Sider, president of Evangelicals for Social Action, offer their views on whether Christians should always give money to street people who ask for it.
Give to Street People? Freely
Gary Hoag, the Generosity Monk
Jesus ministered to social outcasts and the undeserving on numerous occasions, so why don't we? Three possible hang-ups to serving street people have troubled Christians through the centuries.
First, we judge them.
We judge whether or not they are worthy of assistance and what they will do with our aid. Consider this illustration, from C. S. Lewis:
One day, Lewis and a friend were walking down the road and came upon a street person who reached out to them for help. While his friend kept walking, Lewis stopped and proceeded to empty his wallet. When they resumed their journey, his friend asked, "What are you doing giving him your money like that? Don't you know he's just going to go squander all that on ale?" Lewis paused and replied, "That's all I was going to do with it."
Why stop judging those in need? John the Almsgiver (A.D. 550-616) offers an answer. When a person who was not really in need applied for alms and was detected by those administering care, John merely said, "Give unto him; he may be our Lord in disguise."
Second, we hesitate to give freely to those who ask because we fear it may leave us as givers without resources.
I believe many followers of Jesus lack faith to believe that if we empty ourselves of the resources God has provided us, he will fill our cups again.
Paul reminds us, "Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God" (2 Cor. 9:10-11).
To be generous "on every occasion" requires faith to believe that God will, indeed, care for our needs if we show his love by caring for others. As Brennan Manning says, "God's call for each of us to live a life of unlimited generosity is rooted in his limitless love and care for us."
Finally, I believe we fail to give freely to all who ask because we value our possessions more than people.
We cherish stuff more than souls. In The Shepherd of Hermas, an early church writing, we are urged, "Instead of fields, buy souls that are in trouble according to your ability."
What if we adopted this perspective when it came to our asset portfolios? How many street people could we bless in the name of Jesus if we all gave freely? As Jesus sent the first disciples, I believe he is sending us: "Freely you have received; freely give" (Matt. 10:8b).
May God help us stop judging people; freely give to others, trusting him to provide the resources for our generosity; and stop treasuring stuff over people. In so doing, this postmodern world will see Jesus in our generosity, and we may "rebuild the church" as Francis of Assisi did in his day.
Give to Street People? Only as a Last Resort
Andy Bales, the chief executive of Union Rescue Mission
Scripture clearly tells us to keep an open hand to our brothers and sisters in need: "You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land" (Deut. 15:11, ESV).
However, experience has taught me that almost all of the folks standing on corners, sitting at the exits and entrances of freeway ramps, panhandling in public, or even coming to churches to connect with the person in charge of benevolence are not truly homeless or impoverished.