To give or not to give

So this is the blog entry in which I finally get around to answering the question: “When should one give and not give money [to beggars/panhandlers]?”

Drumroll, please!

Upon consideration, there is not one complicated answer to this question, but 3 simple answers:

  1. One ought always to give money to those who ask.
  2. One ought never to give money to those who ask.
  3. One ought sometimes to give money to those who ask.

It may appear that I am trying to wiggle my way out of answering the question.  Instead, I want to begin answering it by denying that it is possible for me to answer the question in a general way, as I am a particular human with a particular life narrative, living within a particular community of particlar humans with their own particular ways of growing in their relationship with God.

And before I make that denial, I want to at the same time make an affirmation: that those who ask for money are themselves particular human beings who ask for particular reasons, reasons that may be different from the reasons they themselves asked yesterday or last week.  They live in particular cities and towns at particular points in time.  They have particular histories, and a limited set of choices available to them which are particular to them.

I built the groundwork for this affirmation yesterday with a blog post which gestured at the diversity of those who are homeless and do not panhandle, as well as the diversity amongst the poor in America.

We are all in this together – and each of us is unique.

So – to that end, over the next couple of weeks, I will be soliciting answers to this question from particular Christians – people whose decision on whether and when to give is rooted in their relationship with God, with people in living in poverty, and with people who have worked with people living in poverty.  And I will share my own answer to this question, too.

Each of us answers this question out of our own understanding of God, even as we are convinced that we live our answer in community, and that we are called to live in love and peace with one another.  It is not a contest or a debate – the goal is not to demonstrate who has the strongest argument, so that the reader can then go and do likewise.  Rather, my hope is that after you read a diversity of narratives, you too will be empowered to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”