Giving isn’t always entirely what it seems. Giving by governments to developing countries is particularly notorious for being linked to the economic benefit that might be accrue to the donor. Whilst the UK government is probably better than many at resisting that siren call, you can still guarantee that every year or two some prominent politician will advocate linking UK aid to the purchase of UK products. At its worst it stretches all the way to pressing upon recipients products such as military equipment that many of us might feel are well off the top of the shopping list of the neediest people in whichever nation it may be. It’s not really giving, it’s just a crafty way to subsidise our own industries and services.
Churches can give like that too. I remember in my early years as a vicar visiting a parish in a very poor neighbourhood. They were getting considerable financial support from a wealthy parish elsewhere. What became clear very quickly was that the price of this generosity was that the recipient parish would be ‘sound’ on a particular set of theological positions. I’m sure the rich parish justified its stance on the basis that it was paying for Christian mission, and if the poorer one took a different stance then the work it did would no longer be advancing the Kingdom. For my part I prefer the phrase ‘bribery and corruption’.
And if we imagine that such failings lie only with institutional giving, then a recent and particularly stark example at the individual level is what happened to one charity earlier this year when its USA arm announced it would not refuse to employ people in same sex marriages. The recipients of the ‘generosity’ clearly mattered less than the theological presuppositions of some of the donors. That’s not giving, it’s just using our money to advance our own ends.
So what I like about Christian Aid Week is that it encourages us to go back to proper giving. Giving without strings. Giving for no other reason than to improve the lives of others. When I put my money in the envelope, or see my Standing Order go from my bank account, I am trusting a charity with a very wide brief, and that encompasses a huge diversity. I’m trusting it to make its own mind up as to where that money may best be spent. It’s not that I don’t care about the people who will benefit, it’s that I care enough to want to distance the choice of recipients from my own preferences and prejudices. I want to be adamant that there is nothing I expect by way of return.
My prayer is that the act of giving to Christian Aid Week can then help me to recognise where, in other areas of my life, I am claiming a false generosity that disguises (perhaps most of all to my own self) my mixed and muddied motives.
David Walker is Bishop of Manchester