Ties That Bind and Nurture
Religions and Philanthropy
One profound source for understanding philanthropy is from religious perspectives. In such discussions, it will help to know the general outlines of various mainstream religious beliefs. This might be especially the case in families with more than one religious perspective.
In “Protestant and Giving: The Tithes that Bind,” 1 James Hudnut-Beumler puts forth the interesting notion that the original Protestants were fundraising reformers. Martin Luther loudly and publicly disagreed with the money-raising practices of the Catholic Church. Concern about the wise or “correct” use of donations for charitable activities continues to be a characteristic of Protestant philanthropy.
In addition, John E. Tropman, in Transmitting the Tradition of a Caring Society to Future Generations, 2 discusses the “protestant work ethic” as a sacred calling and worldly success as a sign of being chosen or favored. He says Protestants often make a strong distinction between worthy versus unworthy causes, and stress a person’s own responsibility for getting out of poverty. Parents educate their children in the values of initiative, integrity, industry, and thrift.
Tropman also sketches what he views as a Catholic ethic toward philanthropy. He claims the Catholic ethic puts more emphasis on charity or philanthropy as a way to address poverty or other human needs. Work and money are merely necessary to live (not a sign of a better person) and mercy is important to deal with the cycle of sin and redemption.
William E. McManus, in “Stewardship and Almsgiving in the Roman Catholic Tradition,” 3 notes the drop in charitable giving by Catholics after the mid-1970s. He believes this is a result of Vatican II’s changes in Catholic doctrine and practice, as well as other social and economic changes. He advocates that renewed attention should be given to two important Catholic Church traditions—stewardship and almsgiving.
Evangelicals give twice as much to charity as Protestants, three times more than Catholics, and four times more than the general population, according to Wesley K. Willmer, author of “Evangelicals: Linking Fervency of Faith and Generosity of Giving.” 4 They give primarily to faith-based charitable causes and to organizations that directly meet human needs. Support goes to missionaries, Bible colleges, human welfare organizations, and para-church organizations (which supplement the work of churches).
Five factors seem to encourage evangelical giving: concern for the lost souls of the world, adherence to the biblical notion of stewardship, response to the Bible’s instructions about limiting personal possessions, a desire to preserve democracy (where religion can be freely practiced) and a need to build institutions that support evangelical values.
The Jewish philanthropic tradition has its origins in religious texts. Tzedakah, or charity, is a responsibility for everyone. Philanthropy is held to be important acquired behavior and taught to children. Jewish philanthropy has been influenced by recent history, as outlined by Barry A. Kosmin in “New Directions in Contemporary Jewish Philanthropy: The Challenges of the 1990s.” 5 Jewish philanthropic initiatives have involved rescuing endangered or oppressed Jewish communities around the world and the security of Israel. Also important is a reduction of anti-semitism in the United States .
The diversity of charitable giving in our society is amazing and inspiring. May this brief overview of “who we are” and “why we give” aid you and your family in understanding and enhancing your own charitable efforts.
- Hudnut-Beumler, James. "Protestant and Giving: The Tithes That Bind." Charles H. Hamilton and Warren F. Ilchman, Cultures of Giving: How Region and Religion Influence Philanthropy. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1995.
- Hropman, John E. "The Catholic Ethic and Charitable Orientation." pp379-292 in Transmitting the Tradition of a Caring Society to Future Generations. Working papers from Independent Sector's Spring Research Forum, San Antonio, Texas, March, 1993.
- HMcManus, William E. "Stewardship and Almsgiving in the Roman Catholic Tradition." Wuthnow, Robert, Virginia A. Hodgkinson and Associates. Faith and Philanthropy in America. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1995.
- HOp. cit., Willmer, Wesley K. "Evangelicals: Linking Fervency of Faith and Generosity of Giving." Hamilton, Charles H. and Warren F. Ilchman. Cultures of Giving: How Region and Religion Influence Philanthropy.
- HOp. cit., Kosmin, Barry A. "New Directions in Contemporary Jewish Philanthropy: The Challenges of the 1990s." Hamilton, Charles H. and Warren F. Ilchman. Cultures of Giving II: How Heritage, Gender, Wealth and Values Influence Philanthropy.i