Charity Alone is Not Enough

The title of this post is not a new revelation to me, and perhaps not to you; it is something I have known for as long as I’ve thought abut the issue.  But I had a graphic illustration of it this afternoon.

I flew into Boston earlier today, as I will be speaking at a conference at Harvard Law School that begins later today.  After settling into my hotel room in Cambridge, I spent some time wandering around the area, since I haven’t been here in quite some time.

On just about every street I walked down, I saw someone begging for money, several people on some of the streets.  I don’t know what their stories were; some had posters saying things like “homeless and hungry,” “need a job,” or “nothing going right.”  The disability of others was obvious (e.g. a one-legged man in a wheelchair, another obviously ill person).  But they all looked tired, worn, sad.

And I knew I could empty my wallet totally, giving each some money or some food and I wouldn’t make a dent.  I won’t say I wouldn’t have made any difference – someone would be less hungry, and would have at least the benefit of a smile and a kind word.  So I’m not saying charity doesn’t matter (although we can argue about whether giving a handout to people in the street is the good way to effectuate that charity).  But it is clear charity is not enough.  There are systemic issues that need to be dealt with, and we are doing a miserably bad of job of dealing with them.

What are we going to do about it?  The answer is not laws forbidding people from feeding people on the street, as some jurisdictions have done.  And it is not to run sprinklers on places the homeless sleep.  And it is not any of the other laws that have been enacted recently targetting the homeless.  But it is surely more than simple charity.

What are we going to do about it?

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2 thoughts on “Charity Alone is Not Enough

  1. Goodwill began in the basement of a downtown Methodist Church in Boston. Salvation Army had similar beginnings, as did Methodism in the 1700’s, in London. Catholic Charities, The United Methodist Committee on Relief and many, many agencies are set up to provide services for the poor and destitute. I would suggest that contributions be made to these organizations. When encountering someone in need, I tell them that I contribute to causes such as these that are better equipped than I am to directly assist those in need. When i was a pastor in Arlington, Texas I referred persons to Arlington Urban Ministries, the street ministry there. My wife was the director and kept in weekly if not daily contact with the clients, with the assistance of other staff and volunteers..

  2. Thanks so much Susan
    We do what we can. We cannot save all, but we can feed and house some.
    If we are very brave we can have one-to-one contact with these Least. We need to be smart and be not afraid, learning to identify alcohol and chemical addiction and mental illness, as well as chronic umemployment. Our treatment of the homeless and lost is an essential revelation of our heart attitude.
    I always ask myself – when I meet a lost one do I see that spark of life from Christ?

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