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Joel BelzVoices Joel Belz

Charity choices

A basic question to guide your giving

Charity choices

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Nobody’s ever confused me with “Dear Abby.” In the 33 years I’ve edited this column, nobody’s ever written me asking for advice about courtship, marriage issues, or an intrusive mother-in-law.

But it’s a rare week’s mail that doesn’t bring several appeals for advice of a different kind. What do I think about ABC College? Would I recommend DEF University? What about GHI Seminary? Is the JKL Relief Agency careful in its use of funds? Is the MNO Home for Children a reliable orphanage?

What’s behind all these queries, of course, is the hurricane of mail—both traditional and digital—seeking our financial support for hundreds and even thousands of nonprofit entities engaged in a wide array of supposedly faithful Christian ministry. But before writing out a check, we want to know: Is that organization dependable? Has it stuck with its historic mission statement? Or is it on the same slippery slope that has led to the demise of so many once-faithful ministries?

It’s a fair series of questions—even an essential attitude for any conscientious donor. And we don’t ask that only about others. What guarantees can we offer that WORLD—in both its print version and its digital expressions—won’t be peddling a package of skepticism and unbelief a generation or two from now? We would hardly be the first journal that started with a need to be faithful and then drifted into a mode that would embarrass its founders.

You want to support and be involved in organizations where the Bible determines both what people believe and how they behave.

The historical record is all too clear. The tendency seems overwhelmingly tilted from right to left, from faithful to unfaithful, from confidence to skepticism. On every side are organizations that have left their first love and chased after other gods.

But having said all that, it’s also important to stress that WORLD has never seen its role to be a rating agency of Christian organizations. Yes, we will report on specific developments in a variety of settings that either build up or diminish the reputations of various agencies. These reports may touch on financial issues, theological faithfulness, cultural matters, or personnel relationships. But each report we bring you is intended not so much to prove some final profile of that institution or organization. Our goal instead is to give you a trustworthy tool for building your own such profile. That’s your task—not ours!

But as you do that, let me suggest a pretty basic question that should be settled before you write out your first check. I asked this in this column just over 25 years ago—but the test is even more valid today. Is the ultimate decision-making process at the institution or organization regularly and self-consciously rooted in the Bible as God’s only infallible rule for our faith and practice?

Three phrases in that question deserve amplification:

Ultimate decision-making process. Don’t fall into the trap of equating the organization itself with some bit player whose aberrational behavior may distract you from the organization’s main direction. Focus instead on the chief players, the official mouthpieces, the administrative anchors, and the boards of directors. Yes, they bear responsibility for everything else as well. But ask yourself what the final decision-makers do when crunchtime comes.

Regularly and self-consciously. Another trap is to focus on the unusual or exceptional occurrence rather than the typical pattern. What is the regular practice? Is that practice followed with self-imposed discipline? Are the decision-makers known as mere pragmatists? Will they do anything for a dollar? Or can you call those decision-makers back to the principles of the Bible and find them dealing with familiar territory?

Only infallible rule of faith and practice. You want to support and be involved in organizations where the Bible determines both what people believe and how they behave. It’s not just a nostalgic reference piece full of sweet-sounding proverbs, but a vital standard-setter demonstrably affecting the minds, hearts, hands, and feet of everyone involved. When other standards (even if they’re politically correct) come into conflict, the Bible wins.

And here’s a follow-up assignment. Several times a year, when you send a check to one of your favorite nonprofit charities, ask its staffers to send you, with your receipt, a few sentences including an example of a hard choice they’ve made because of their commitment to a Biblical principle. Collect several of those accounts, and you won’t need to be asking us at WORLD who deserves your support!

Comments

  • Allen Johnson
    Posted: Fri, 09/13/2019 02:17 pm

    I'll add another question. How does the charity honor the $15 donation from the poor widow? That is, what is the charity's compensation scale for its employees top to bottom? Is it inline with following Jesus, or is it inline with maximizing personal gain? Furthermore, are office, travel, conference expenses modest or extravagant?

  • Steve Shive
    Posted: Mon, 09/16/2019 06:56 am

    Do I give so I can get a tax break? Now that the income tax structure has changed with the standard deduction increase and thus less tax liability assistance from charitable giving am I giving less?

    ... and in addition how much of this organization’s income actually goes to the ministry and people they say is their focus? This is critical as well. But I think Joel's 3 questions are good ones. 

  • RC
    Posted: Mon, 09/16/2019 09:16 am

    EVERYONE  - should ask these questions B4 giving to ANY charitable or other organization:

    1. How much of my donation is actually going to work ?  ( percentage or cents on the dollar )

    2. What type of real work is being done ?  ( Examples )

    3. What evidence of changes can be seen ?  ( lives that have been impacted  )

    Randy Crews