Friday, May 30, 2008

Do Christians give more to the poor?

One of the pastors at our church is doing a (very good) sermon series on finances, and he asked me to look up some data for him. That got me to thinking again about money and Christianity...

Periodically people ask if Christians are more generous with their money, and one of the stonger answers to this question comes from Regnerus, Smith, and Sikkink (1998, "Who gives to the poor).

They examined data from a study of about 2,000 Americans, and the study asked respondents who much money they gave to organizations which help the poor.
There were three possible answers: “A lot”, “some”, and “none.” They found that Christians gave more than non-religious, and the more that Christians attended church, the more they gave. Members of other religions gave more, though it's unclear which religions are represented in this category.

TABLE 1 GIVING MONEY TO ORGANIZATIONS WHICH HELP THE POOR AND NEEDY (WITHIN LAST TWO YEARS) (IN PERCENT)

Gave a lot some none

Protestant:

Fundamentalist 22.6 67.8 9.6

Evangelical 28.7 62.4 8.8

Mainline 21.9 68.5 9.6

Liberal 24.6 59.9 15.6

"Other" 20.6 56.6 22.9

Lower-attendance 19.0 69.2 11.8

Catholic:

Higher-attendance 22.4 71.7 5.9

Lower-attendance 7.5 73.7 18.8

All other religious 44.6 49.0 6.4

Nonreligious 9.5 77.7 12.9

7 comments:

mwparker2 said...

Hmm, I think its interesting that there's a 5% gap (in % giving some or a lot) between Liberal and Conservative (def. Fund. and Evan.) Christians.

I would have expected that to be reversed given that, as i understand it, conservative theology tends to place more emphasis on the afterlife where as liberal theology tends to be more of what gets called the Social Gospel.

Thoughts?

Brad Wright said...

I too would have expected differently... I would probably want to see the finding replicated before making too much of it, but it was an interesting finding of the article.

If it's true... maybe evangelicals attend church more frequently/ are more involved, so they are more affected by teachings?

Maybe the authority given to scripture carries over to teachings about giving?

Michael Kruse said...

You might want to check out my book review of Who Really Cares by Arthur Brooks. Here is his key observation:

"First, imagine two people: One goes to church every week and strongly rejects the idea that it is government’s responsibility to redistribute income between people who have a lot of money and people who don’t. The other person never attends a house of worship, and strongly believes that the government should reduce income differences. Knowing only these things, the data tell us that the first person will be roughly twice as likely as the second to give money to charities in a given year, and will give away more than one hundred times as much money per year (as well as fifty times more to explicitly nonreligious causes).

Or take two other people who are identical with respect to household incomes, education, age, sex, and race. One receives assistance from the government in the form of housing support, welfare payments, or food stamps; does not belong to a house of worship; and is a single parent. The second is a working poor person (although his or her total household income is just as low as the first person’s, he or she does not receive government assistance), belongs to a house of worship, and is a married parent. According to the data, the second person will be, on average, more than seven times as likely to make a donation to charity each year." (10-11)

Brooks reports that the key indicator of giving is not political affliation but weekly attendance at worship. Conservative and liberal weekly attenders are the highest givers although conservatives give slightly more.

The thesis that conservatives are so other worldly they don't give doesn't hold up in his analysis. In fact, I'd suggest the operative issue might be that liberals believe it is government's role to provide for the poor so they don't believe they should have to give. Justice and benevolence toward the poor is expressed through collective taxation rather than personal giving.

Nate said...

Brad, do you know how the people's affiliation, such as fundamentalist or liberal, was found? Did people mark themselves as fundamentalist, liberal, or whatever? Or were they asked questions about church affiliation and the like and then grouped into those categories by the authors?

jeremy said...

Stay tuned for the release of this book. Should be good.

Brad Wright said...

Thanks Jeremy... I hadn't heard about it, but it looks very interesting!

Brad Wright said...

Thanks Michael. I am shamelessly posting your comment later this week (with attribution, of course). Good stuff.