I joined Giving What We Can because I am a Christian. The Christian call to charity can sound almost clichéd at times, but the fundamental message is radical. Jesus tells us “love your neighbour as yourself” (Mark 12:31). This sounds obvious and easy – but Jesus makes it clear in the Parable of the Good Samaritan that our neighbour is not just people who live near us or people who we like, but every human being in the world. We are called to value each and every human being in the world as much as we value ourselves.
Applying this principle to charitable giving, we see that putting the odd pound in a collection bucket just isn’t going to cut it. If we really love those living with poverty, illness or oppression as we love ourselves, we will do everything we can to help them. We will make real sacrifices to help them.
Charitable giving is a focus of Jesus’ teachings. He tells us “Sell your possessions and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with money bags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys”. It is clear that Jesus had some fairly serious charitable giving in mind.
By sacrificing worldly goods to help those whose need is so much greater than our own, we build treasure in heaven, and we make the Earth a better place. Jesus is talking about big sacrifices here – He’s saying we should go as far as to sell our things to raise money to give to the poor! When we consider that we’re called to value them as much as we value ourselves, this idea doesn’t seem so silly.
Do I live up to these ideals? Absolutely not. I strive to model my life on Jesus’ teachings, and taking the Giving What We Can pledge is a step towards that goal. I have pledged to give 10% of my income to whichever charity I think most effectively helps those living in extreme poverty. 10% feels like a lot, but it shouldn’t. It feels like a lot because I haven’t succeeded in truly loving my neighbour as myself. Taking a public pledge to give helps ensure that my actions will live up to my ideals.
Why the focus on effectiveness? Now I’ve pledged to give this money, I have to choose where to give it. How should I choose? I should choose in a way that values every single human being as my neighbour. Not just people who live near me, not just people who speak my language, and not just people suffering in ways that I might one day suffer. I should value the child in Ethopia dying of a disease I haven’t heard of as much as the lady down the road battling cancer.
With this in mind, I’ve decided I want to give to a charity that can help as many people as possible with my donation. How can I work out which charity that is? It’s hard – there are several organisations researching this questions, but no definitive answers. Jesus does not give us lists of rules to follow – He tells us to love our God and love our neighbour and we have to figure the rest out ourselves. We have to figure out how and where we should give to best love our neighbour.
Jesus tells us “be as shrewd as serpents and as innocent as doves” (Mark 10:16). We are called to give wisely and to give generously. We are called to love our neighbours by giving freely of all the gifts God has given us – our worldly possessions, our intelligence and our humility. For me, being a member of Giving What We Can is part of this commitment.