March 15, 2013

The War on Generosity

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By Luke Moon  (Twitter: @lukemoon1)

For more than 20 years, Glenn Richter has been collecting food from restaurants and synagogues to donate to the homeless and local soup kitchens.  Not anymore.  Last year, Nanny-in-Chief Michael Bloomberg banned restaurants from donating leftover food to shelters and soup kitchens.  The excuse given by Bloomberg was that the health of the homeless was important and therefore they city must monitor the salt, fat, and fiber intake for the homeless.

If this was an isolated incident or limited to New York City it might not be that significant.  I mean, this is the same Bloomberg who seemingly would have all the citizens of New York become bike-riding vegans (I expect the auto and shoe leather buy-back program to be launched any day now.) No, this attack on generosity is a pattern across the nation.

Last month, MyNorthwest,com wrote about how The Bread of Life Mission in Seattle was told to stop feeding the homeless in city parks.  According to the report, David Takami from, you guessed it, the Seattle Human Services Dept said, “The city does not allow groups of people to feed the homeless outdoors without approval.”  Instead, generous citizens need to go through the government sanctioned “Operation: Sack Lunch” so that the city can “control the nutritional value of what the homeless eat.”

Last year, the city of Philadelphia’s mayor outright banned the feeding of the homeless in public spaces.  Fortunately, this ban was overturned by a Federal judge after several religious charities filed suit to block the ban.  Again, couched in the “good intentions” language of public safety and safety of the homeless, the mayor banned the ability of citizens to “love their neighbor” in the “city of brotherly love.

Rarely does the IRD commend Shane Claiborne and his organization, The Simple Way, but in this instance they acted according to the teachings of scripture.  In his open letter to the mayor of Philadelphia, Shane wrote, “And it was St. Augustine who said, ‘An unjust law is no law at all.’ This [ban on feeding the homeless] is an unjust law and we are obligated not to comply.”

Lest you think this is simply a liberal big-city issue, the state of Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals demanded Shreveport-Bossier Rescue Mission throw away nearly a ton of donated venison.  The deer meat was donated by Hunters for the Hungry, a charity which donates wild game to shelters.  Even though the Louisiana’s own Deer Management Program itself publicly states it donates deer meat to charities, the local hunter’s generosity is banned.

Since the 2009 economic crisis there have been thousands of rules and regulations passed by governments in an attempt to “stamp out corruption and greed.” Last year, parks all over the nation were occupied by angry youth and washed out hippies decrying the supposed greed and corruption of the 1%. Many were calling for wealth redistribution and prison for the guilty rich.  Both of these strategies to overcome greed misunderstand that the true source of greed lies in the human heart.  Greed is not limited to the rich Wall Street banker.  Greed is alive and well on Main Street and my street.

The reality is that greed is not overcome by law, but by generosity and this simple truth is what makes the attacks on generosity so disturbing.  These attacks on generosity are all justified as being for health and safety or some other good intention.  However, C.S. Lewis nails it when he wrote on the Tyranny of Good Intentions,

“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”

A more insidious problem is that the church, and other religious and charitable organizations are the only real competition to the State.  One of the first acts of dictators in the last century was to destroy the churches.  This is because the church tells the people, “God is the ultimate authority,” whereas the dictator says, “I am the ultimate authority.”  While many States in the Western world have not fallen under the tyranny of a dictator, the attacks on the competition to the State being the ultimate authority is still evident if not more subtle.  On nearly every issue where the States power is challenged there is a dutiful lot of religious leaders who will trot out to affirm the authority of the State.

For example, last year at the Wild Goose Festival, David Beckmann, President of Bread for the World, told the audience, “I would like to get churches get out of the business of distributing groceries–put that in the hands of grocery stores.  And get churches involved in working with people to get their lives under control.” The money to buy those groceries, of course, come from the State.

Caring for the poor and being generous is the individual responsibility of everyone and especially every Christian. However, the war on generosity must be exposed for what it is, a subjugation of the church to the State. As the allies of the State strive to perfect humanity they will not just breed more greed, but they will breed resentment too.

11 Responses to The War on Generosity

  1. Great analysis, Luke. I especially like the Lewis quotes. Many evangelicals who tout government programs as the best way to help the needy are reluctant to encourage their church members to be better stewards of their resources. I believe this leads to a smaller emotional investment by individuals in the needs of the poor. A friend once told me, “My generation isn’t very good at contributing to charities because they think the government will take care of it.” Lobbying the government is not the same as actively feeding the hungry.

  2. First it started with the pidgeons, then the geese, now the homeless. Is there anything politicians will not get their fingers into? I guess the ultimate plan is to have everyone coming to the “Grand Inquisitor” for their bread.

  3. fairfaxian says:

    Beckmann’s statement is incredible. What does he think that first deacons in the church did in Acts? They distributed food that was donated to the church! Putting that job in the hands of grocery stores leaves you with two problems. First, the grocery store exists to make money, to deliver a service and turn a profit to pay its workers and stay in business (this fact alone would likely appall those in attendance at the Wild Goose Festival). With their razor-thin profit margins, how do you get the grocery stores to focus some of their shift on feeding the homeless. You would need government coercion and I would bet that the “solution” could have unintended consequences that would exacerbate the problem. Second, the church is the institution that will possibly be able to provide other types of aid as well as speak to their spiritual needs.

    If your organization is called Bread for the World and you don’t provide bread to anyone in the world, are you still an organization?

  4. Whit Brisky says:

    Sara, I think you are on to the key.

    Government, and government people, seek power, sometimes for its own sake and sometimes to gain wealth or some other perceived good. Thus we must beware of increases in the scope and power of government. The increase always seems “for a good cause” but the results are usually not as promised and the costs greater than predicted.

    Subsidiarity, and a robust civil society, are the cure for government overreach. If private charity does not feed the poor, then they must be fed by government coercion and power. And if private charity is feeding the poor (so there is no need for government) then government will find reasons to interfere with private charity so they will have a reason to take over.

    Another example is so-called global warming. If it’s happening at all (and there has been none for 17 years), then it is far slower, and therefore less serious, than advertised. Warming may even be, on balance, good for mankind by increasing food production, lessening the need for expensive heating, etc. Living in Chicago I would not mind warming winters. And if it is caused by CO2, and there is no actual experimental evidence that it is, it is not likely to be affected by all the CO2 reduction programs which cannot markedly reduce emissions at costs even remotely acceptable. And finally, if it is real, if it will cause significant net negative effects for humans, and if it is caused by CO2, our money will be much more efficiently spent fixing the negative effects rather than trying to prevent the warming altogether.

    And of course the warmists are the same folks who have always been opposing nuclear power (even though it is the only currently available technology that can really replace fossil fuels at this point in time), advocating more government power and taxation, more redistribution, and less economic freedom. Global warming is just the most recent excuse.

  5. […] Read the rest of this provocative article by clicking here. […]

  6. […] This article first appeared on the Institute on Religion and Democracy’s blog and is used with permission. […]

  7. […] article HERE about developments in the USA concerning the charitable feeding of the […]

  8. […] The War on Generosity  This is a great blog and a clear look at what has happened in the most blessed land on the planet.  […]

  9. gregpaley says:

    I would like to add an important item to the list of Basic Human Rights: The right to be free from the power of meddlers. When I read about these pathetic excuses for “public servants” meddling in acts of private benevolence, I’m reminded of my many elderly neighbors here, who move very slowly most of the time, but can spring into action when attempting to report a person watering his lawn on the wrong day (the fine is $193) or installing a new window without a permit (which costs $40) from the county. Of course, the real nasties here are not the neighbors but the various government agencies that set up the stupid rules in the first place, ostensibly for the citizens’ own good, though the only real beneficiaries seem to be the employees of those agencies, who (in my experience) look down on people who actually have provide the public with a good or service. Being a “public servant” is all about power over others and, as Jesus mentioned in Luke 22:25, the desire to be called “benefactors” – wield power and expect to be praised for doing it. I have more respect for the clerk at Walmart or the forklift guy at Home Depot than I do for any so-called “human services” bureaucrat.

  10. apcroft33 says:

    I can only imagine how the Michael Bloombergs of the world react to the parable of the Good Samaritan. Did that guy have training in first aid? Was he certified to minister to men who had been robbed and beaten? Did he get a permit to transport the beaten man to the inn? Was the innkeeper running an establishment that was handicapped-accessible? Didn’t he know that acting individually might instill others with the desire to bypass the proper channels?
    Jesus and his original listeners lived in a brutal world, but at least not an over-regulated one. Thankfully, Joseph of Arimathea didn’t have to fill out 50 pages of forms before offering his tomb for Jesus’ burial.

  11. […] Pastor Foley–I understand the concerns expressed by Multiply Justice, Luke Moon, and Shane Claiborne   over new laws banning or severely restricting or regulating public feeding […]

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