Generosity or flashing “privilege”?

On Sunday, the Youth Group at my church was selling Krispy Kreme doughnuts. I don’t know why. They never tell us at church what the money is being raised for, cause the kids certainly don’t go on retreats or mission trips. I don’t really understand it. Last week was the Youth Revival, where they spend 4 nights trying to get kids to “accept Jesus” by bringing in guest preachers and choirs and giving the youth a bit more attention than usual. Sunday was the sort of culmination of that, with a rather bizarre preacher. She came down and “talked at the kids’ level” so to speak, but actually spent 30 minutes yelling at the kids about what they needed to be doing, while revealing rather odd parts of her own story. There’s a lot of yelling at black churches, at least at ours, and I usually don’t appreciate it, but I feel like kids and youth don’t respond to it at all, even less than adults. But I digress.

Krispy Kremes. Six dollars a box (yikes!), the pastor admonished us all to really buy them from the youth, to support them. We have to set an example for them, he says. Well, one of our white church friends bought like 6 or 7 boxes of them, obviously trying to be generous and support the youth. I understand that, though it raises for me questions like “Why do churches need to have fundraisers like that at all?” Christians shouldn’t need material incentives to give money for things they believe in. Assuming the kids get $3/box, she only gave the youth group like 18 bucks instead of $36.

But the more interesting problem is the reaction of my friend who doesn’t usually come to our church but lives in our neighborhood. When the white lady bought all these boxes of doughnuts (she only lives with her husband), she offered them to this friend (let’s call her Jennifer). Jennifer is black, jobless, lives with an unfortunate extended family of druggies and dealers, and basically what most people would call poor. White lady calls Jennifer and says she has all these extra boxes of doughnuts and would she like some.

I found Jennifer’s reaction incredibly revealing. She was talking to me right before she went to go pick up the doughnuts and said to me, “You know, I really like [White lady], but sometimes, I don’t know. Like,  I don’t know why she bought all them extra doughnuts if she wasn’t going to eat them. It seems like a waste of money.” Jennifer went and picked up the doughnuts and sold them at another church in our neighborhood.

I guess what I’m suggesting is that for White Lady (who happens to live in a rather distinctive, fancy home in the middle of the poorest block on that street) to make such a “generous” contribution and (accidentally or not) demonstrate her wealth in a tangible way, futhered the racial-socio-economic division between her and her neighbor. It makes sense. How can you conceive of spending $40 on doughnuts you don’t need and won’t eat while your neighbors across the street can’t pay their electric bill? I’m not trying to condemn White Lady, I actually really sympathize with the tension of wanting to be generous to the church without potentially showcasing your access to resources unavailable to your neighbors.

In the end, I think all the above problems I mentioned about money are interrelated. On the one hand you’ve got a church ordering its members to buy useless, unhealthy crap to raise money for a cause you can’t identify, and on the other, generous members who want to give what they have and recognize that having more money should equate to giving more of it away but don’t really know how to do so in a way that doesn’t offend create barriers or conflicts. I don’t think these problems are unique to the situation I described above. I think that at most churches you have some variation of these same problems.

One answer is obviously complete annonymity in giving, so that the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing. I think there is some merit in this, at least in the giving aspect of it. But I actually that anonymous giving is made more difficult and less successful (in terms of the amounts given) because nobody really wants to talk about how much money they have or make. In my opinion, full disclosure about this sort of thing is an absolute must for a church community. Everyone should know how much everyone makes, not to divide and cause discord, but for accountability in how we spend our money. People who make a lot of money in a church where most people don’t should be forced to come to terms with how they spend it and how the people who don’t make as much view their spending. But more than that, I think that kind of disclosure opens up dialogue about the kind of jobs we ought to value–that the woman working as a custodian does work that is equally valuable and valued as the programmer who makes three times the salary. It would help us realize that our money is not our own, and that in Christian community, others can help us see better where that money can be used to meet the needs of the congregation and feed the hungry.

Mammon. Can’t live with it.


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