In chapter 8 you write about how everything we as individuals own is a gift from God and not something we have earned with our own strength. You wrote “That attitude is dangerous, because we can easily become stingy and judgmental towards others, rationalizing that if they worked as hard as we do, they too could amass the same possessions and conveniences that we have.”
You then, on page 154, quote Joel Belz, founder of World magazine as follows:
“If, on the one hand, we are persuaded deep in our hearts that we have earnedI have to disagree with you here. This sounds to me like very liberal thought trying to disguise itself (and not doing a very good job of it).
what we have in life, then we tend to expect others to do the same. But if we
know that everything we have in life is a gift, then we are inclined to extend a
giving heart toward others. The tension between these two points of view is hard
for American conservatives to resolve—and perhaps especially so for American
conservatives who are also serious Christians.”
American conservatives, many of whom are Christians, are generous people. We (if I may speak for American Christian conservatives) believe in working hard to provide for our families. At the same time, we are fully aware that there are some in our society and world who are not able to provide for themselves, for instance in the cases of physical or mental disabilities. We are more than willing to pitch in to help provide for the needs of such precious people—and we do, in many ways.
However, when people who could provide for themselves don’t, our generosity is presumed upon and it has come to the point of overwhelming good-hearted conservative Americans. For example, countless people have come into our nation illegally and so have to maneuver under the radar for jobs. Our health care system is overwhelmed by people—not only those who are here illegally but others as well—who abuse our hospital emergency rooms because they don’t have jobs when they could (or don’t have them legally) so they don’t have health care through their job benefits.
And yet American Christian conservatives are constantly told we are stingy, we are never generous enough, and we are wrong to want people to obey the law and work to provide for themselves and their families.
I’ll give you room to respond if you wish.
KM: I don’t disagree with you at all that American Christians (and Christians from other countries, for that matter) are often the most generous people in the world. Most charities were started by Christians, and countless good works have been done throughout society and throughout history by those who serve Christ. The danger comes when we begin to believe we own or earned our possessions—when we consider them deserved rather than God-given. The first sign of a hard heart is a lack of gratitude. If we believe everything we have came to us as a result of our own hard work, then what have we to be grateful for? But if we realize that it is only by God’s grace and mercy that we were born in a country that rewards our efforts, it helps keep us in an “attitude of gratitude.”
Does that mean we have to give away everything we have to everyone who asks (or demands)? Of course not. God expects us to be wise stewards and to remember that all we have is His. Therefore we need to seek Him before we disperse the material goods He has entrusted to us. But while we are here on this earth, serving as stewards of God’s blessings, we must learn to hold them with an open hand…and a tender heart.
From the book:
“With all the weaknesses and warts of the church, we still need to be an active part of it” (p. 156).