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December 01, 2006

Conservatives and Christians Give More to Charities, ABC says

As Doug explores in his post below, people of faith give far more to charities than non-religious people, and conservatives give more to the poor than do liberals. That’s the finding of a study by author Arthur Brooks and the conclusion trumpeted by a John Stossel report on ABC this week.

The report says:

“The single biggest predictor of whether someone will be charitable is his or her religious participation. Religious people are more likely to give to charity, and when they give, they give more money: four times as much. And Arthur Brooks told me that giving goes beyond their own religious organization: "Actually, the truth is that they're giving to more than their churches," he says. "The religious Americans are more likely to give to every kind of cause and charity, including explicitly non-religious charities."

Christian conviction and conservative ideology increases the likelihood that an individual will give to charities—and not just to their churches, but to a variety of religious and secular causes.

As Christians, we give out of obligation—Scripture tells us to help the poor—but even more out of gratitude to God for his goodness.

Liberals who see care for the poor as a government responsibility, give far less as individuals. At the same time, they describe conservatives as non-caring, and Christians as exclusionary and hypocritical. This could not be further from the truth, and these findings document it.

Posted by Jim at December 1, 2006 08:26 AM

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Tracked on December 1, 2006 08:59 AM


I know I've asked this question somewhere before, but I don't think I've ever got the answer:

If you factor out church-giving, what does that do to the figures?

That's not to discount church-giving, which I think is a good, but rather that it is usually a different sort of giving than purely self-less. The majority of church-giving goes directly back in to the church, so when I give to my church, the majority of that is going to pay staff and building costs - to me.

Some part of that giving will go to missions or "charitable aid," such as giving to a family in need, or to pay staff who minister to people in need, but the majority of church money goes to feed the churchgoers personally, so it's a bit different than purely charitable giving.

I wonder if any group has looked in to how that impacts giving?

Posted by: Dan Trabue at December 1, 2006 11:22 AM

I don't know if anyone has done a study like that, but considering that you can go to church and not give them a dime if you so choose, I think it may be a distinction without a difference.

Posted by: Doug Payton at December 1, 2006 12:48 PM

What Dan is driving at is that tithing isn't really, well, charitible, since the bulk of that money provides a tangible benefit to the donor. There's a qualitative difference between giving to a church and giving to a shelter for the homeless.

If it's the case that tithing makes up the bulk of religious giving (the difference between conservative and liberal Christians, IIRC, is statistically insignificant), then it effectively undercuts the conclusion of the study.

Posted by: jpe at December 2, 2006 08:52 AM

On reread I see I missed Doug's point. It reminds me of going to punk shows as a kid. Most of the shows were in someone's basement or in a garage or something, and there was no cover. A hat was passed around at some point or there was a money box with the guy selling tapes, and one could give money if one wanted, and most people did. That giving never struck me as charitible; it was just about giving to the community that I enjoyed being part of.

The alternative was to be a freeloading jerk. And if we define charity as acts by which one isn't a freeloading jerk, then charity loses quite a bit of its meaning.

Posted by: jpe at December 2, 2006 09:04 AM

The majority of a church's budget goes toward the pastor, missions, and the diaconate, not the building, or the administrative, secretarial or janitorial staff. If that's not true in your church, something is way, way out of whack.

If paying your pastor doesn't count as charitable giving, then neither does giving to missions. If diaconal spending is not charitable, then neither is a direct gift.

Anyway, isn't there something vaguely ironic about opening the books to show how charitable we are?

This question also turns out to be ironic. Wouldn't it sound even more comical to compare whose left hand, the liberals' or conservatives', is more unaware of what their right hand is doing?

Given all the ways to slice up the numbers, it's pretty meaningless in terms of charity. It has a political purpose though, in answering slander, which is important to people.

Posted by: Mark Mc at December 3, 2006 12:08 PM

If paying your pastor doesn't count as charitable giving, then neither does giving to missions.

The congregant gets the direct benefit of sermons (as well as the administrative functions) from having a pastor. The only relevant question is what portion of a church's expenditures go to charity? In my experience with church finances, it's been fairly low (10-25% at most; my experience is limited to a single denomination, so I've searched for financial reports of churches from other denoms, but have had no luck).

Posted by: jpe at December 3, 2006 02:15 PM

The congregant is only one among many. The gifts of one are given to the many. For his giving to be "charitable" I suppose he should stay home.

This mathematical way of thinking is very wrong headed. The idea that giving must be "selfless" to be charitable is very wrong headed. It is not profitable.

Posted by: Mark Mc at December 3, 2006 04:21 PM

Dan, get Brooks' book. He runs the numbers on that and shows that even factoring out religious causes, religious people still give more, though that number is not as dramatic as the overall, of course. The book is short, lucid, and devastating. I review it here:

Posted by: Assistant Village Idiot at December 10, 2006 10:25 PM

I don't believe that giving to a church should be considered non-charitable. Sure, there are things that the offering money goes to, that directly keeps the church doors open- utility bills and such. But why would that not be considered charitable? If you give to a homeless shelter, do you think they don't have to pay utility bills?

Even if the pastor takes a salary from the given money, it is still charity. If the only thing your pastor does is show up and deliver a sermon, then I can see your point- but that means something is seriously messed up there. Any pastor I've had the honor of knowing does far more than that- they visit the sick, the poor, minister to the community on a daily basis.

Posted by: Tammy at December 16, 2006 11:54 AM