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engaging God's mission

Lately there has some discussion in the partisan blogosphere as to whether one should give to Episcopal Relief and Development if one disagrees with one or more things going on the The Episcopal Church, or to Anglican Relief and Development if one doesn't, or if it's better to give to some other organization entirely.

I plan to update this post to offer links to the organizations I mention and to ones to which I refer, but I want to go on the record as saying immediately and unequivocally:

If you want to give to change the world, to relieve global poverty, than the theological bent of particular people involved in the organization doesn't matter much.

What matters much, in my reading of the life and teaching and death and resurrection of Jesus, God's Christ, is our giving is that we're engaging God's mission by doing so, and that means giving as much as possible from compassion for the poorest and most marginalized and as little as possible from our sense of what will accomplish any partisan church or civic political aims.

So yes, I support Episcopalian Relief and Development, and rejoice when others do. They do amazing work, partnering with indigenous ministries for maximum efficiency and sensitivity to local context, and spending as little as possible on overhead versus aid. I've looked into them, and I feel on solid ground in saying that their work is worth supporting, whether you're an Episcopalian or not, and whether you're a fan of any particular policy or other tendency of The Episcopal Church or not. Episcopal Relief and Development, as far as I can tell (and I would welcome any data I should take into account that might demonstrate the contrary), is doing important and urgent work that's Good News to the poor.

I have not investigated to the same degree organizations such as Anglican Relief and Development (which, as I understand the situation, was formed by groups seeking to break away from The Episcopal Church to provide aid especially from organizations and people who, for a variety of reasons, can't accept funding for or don't feel comfortable donating to anything associated with The Episcopal Church) and Five Talents. I hear good things about what they're doing, though.

What I encourage everyone to do is to INVESTIGATE. Ask questions about how much money goes to fund people in the U.S. (you'd be surprised at how many organizations claim to be about ending extreme poverty involved and that still spend most of their income right here, one white people better off than me). Ask them about their partnerships with organizations indigenous to the populations they serve. Personally, I don't chalk up anything I give to organizations that spend more than 15% of their total budget as PROGRAM budget OVERSEAS part of the 1% that organizations such as the ONE Campaign is advocating.

In other words, how much is my giving helping comfortable American citizens live comfortably while they talk about extreme poverty? Talking about extreme poverty is important, but does not necessarily relieve extreme poverty, and personally I prefer to fun initiatives -- such as Global Voices -- that give voice to people outside the U.S. and who work directly with if not being immediately among the populations most affected by extreme poverty.

And with respect to organizations abroad, how much budget goes to administration as opposed to program -- i.e., the program of relieving extreme poverty, as opposed to talking about relieving extreme poverty? What accountability measures are in place to assure that checks cashed are used by the organization for its stated mission?

Personally, I don't many organizations -- faith-based or no -- that match Episcopal Relief and Development (ERD) in terms of efficiency, cultural sensitivity, and working to channel relief in directions that foster autonomy.

If you want to register your disagreement with The Episcopal Church in some way, though, I'm going to do something crazy:

I suggest, a la St. Paul's advice in his letter to the churches in Rome, that you strive to outdo ERD in collections gathered, in accountability offered, and in effectiveness in getting relief and means to economic sustainability to those in extreme poverty. Do that and I'll stand up and cheer at the top of my lungs.

Because in the end -- I have to say as some who takes seriously Matthew's report of Jesus' talking about 'sheep' and 'goats' -- I don't give a rodent's posterior about which organization sends which people which tax form.

I just want a world in which every child has a chance -- clean water, enough food to get by in reasonable health, enough health care to end childhood mortality from diseases we have for decades had cheap technologies to cure, enough education and a clean enough environment to make a living by their own hands.

We could do it -- not just because we have the resources (and we do -- because God has blessed this world with more than enough resources), but because, I think, there's critical mass in this world such that if those of us who believed this but aren't making a big deal about it decided to make a big deal about it, we could witness firsthand the changing of the tide that God is doing.

I'll write more about this soon, I'm sure -- especially given that this is Lent, and that I've got certain ideas (for which I'm deeply indebted to the prophet Isaiah, among others) about in what kinds of fasts God is engaged and honors -- but I wanted to go on the record about this much right now.

Thanks for listening.

February 6, 2008 in Churchiness, Current Affairs, Episcopal Relief and Development, ONE campaign/Millennium Development Goals (MGDs), U2charist | Permalink

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