Two articles in recent weeks make one wonder if American evangelicals really care about the world beyond their fortified national borders.
One article highlights a poll showing evangelicals want to cut U.S. foreign aid to the poor. The other shows how little money evangelical churches give to overseas missions. Neither article has gotten the attention it deserves.
Pew Research Center for People and the Press released a survey showing the budget priorities of Americans.
The survey showed that Americans favor increased federal spending on education, public schools, domestic aid to the needy and environmental protection – all areas the House Republicans cut drastically from the current fiscal year’s budget.
Forty-five percent of those Americans surveyed said they favored decreased federal spending on “economic assistance to needy people around the world.” Twenty-nine percent supported current levels and 21 percent wanted increased aid.
Compared to 2009 data, the percentage of Americans at large who favored a cut in foreign aid increased by 11 percent in 2011.
Christianity Today asked Pew for a breakdown of budget priorities based on religion.
Disappointingly, 56 percent of evangelicals favored cutting economic aid to the global poor more, a much higher percentage than Americans at large (45 percent).
Not surprisingly, evangelicals were cheerleaders for military spending.
“Evangelicals were more likely to favor an increase in defense spending (45 percent) compared to non-evangelicals (28 percent),” said Christianity Today.
Americans at large were evenly split between those who wanted less military spending (30 percent) and those who backed more spending (31 percent).
The bottom line is that evangelicals more than Americans at large said they wanted to cut foreign aid to the poor and to increase funding for making war.
Alas, one wonders if evangelicals have cut Isaiah’s vision of hammering swords into plow shears out of their Bibles. Maybe the “Left Behind” novels hold more sway than the biblical witness’ call to peacemaking and protecting the poor.
Here’s where the other overlooked article makes the evangelical worldview even more disheartening.
Christianity Today posted a discussion item under the title “Are American Evangelicals Stingy?” It was accompanied by a stunning graphic.
Evangelicals give about 1.6 percent more of their income to churches than other Christians – 4 percent compared to 2.43 percent.
Since evangelicals claim they are more faithful than other Christians to the Bible, one wonders what happened to their obedience to the biblical teaching of a 10 percent tithe.
Based on data from Empty Tomb, cited in Christianity Today, only 2 cents of every dollar given by Southern Baptist Convention churches goes to international ministries – a far cry from the SBC’s spin that international missions make the Baptist heart beat.
While Southern Baptists give only 2 cents to global missions, only a tiny fraction of that goes to help feed the world’s poor.
Seventh-day Adventists, Wesleyans and Presbyterians (PCA) gave twice as much as Southern Baptists – 4 cents. The Church of the Nazarene and General Association of General Baptists gave 6 cents, while members of the Christian and Missionary Alliance gave 11 cents.
What do these two articles say about American evangelicals?
Evangelicals don’t really care about the world’s impoverished. They want the federal government to cut back on economic assistance to the poor, and their churches don’t give two cents about the world’s hungry.
Theologically, that is the sin of sloth or moral indifference. Practically, it is abandonment of the moral teaching found in Matthew 25.
If the Bible is a moral compass, and it is, then the biblical witness points American Christians toward greater support for economic aid to the poor from both the government and the churches.
Speaking through Moses, God told the people that they would always have the poor in their midst, therefore they should “open wide” their hand to them (Deuteronomy 15:11).
Isn’t that a straightforward moral imperative?
Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics.