Straws and nets

A note from the World Bible Society advises us of two new affiliates, one dedicated to supplying anti-malarial bednets and one to providing personal water-purifying straws.  But the Nonprofiteer isn’t inclined to support either one because the World Bible Society is in the business of conducting Christian ministry and conversion throughout the world, an activity the Nonprofiteer regards as equal parts wasteful and culturally intrusive.

UNICEF supplies bednets and water purification services without those drawbacks; but perhaps people whose interest is in evangelism wouldn’t be moved to assist poor people without exacting a pound of conversion in return.

Which raises another, larger question: when we see that a huge hunk of individual donations goes to religious organizations, should we celebrate because religious organizations provide social services or mourn because they do so inefficiently, that is, only after siphoning off x per cent of what’s given for the operation of the church?  Is that any worse than a secular nonprofit’s siphoning off operating expenses from its donations?

Or any better?

Regardless: pure water and bednets are a good idea.  If you’d like to supply yours with a side of  Bibles, contact the World Bible Society; otherwise, UNICEF will be happy to direct your money so it provides clean water and malaria-free sleep to the maximum number of people worldwide.

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2 Responses to “Straws and nets”

  1. Jim Simpson Says:

    I tried to NOT respond to this but to no avail. For the last 4 months I’ve been trying to bring new fundraising opportunities to non-profits via foundations that are so out of touch or traumatized by past experience, fear of job loss, equities losses, or just plain unflinching inability to consider anything new, that we’re now successfully going directly to non-profits without this failing support model to prop us up. So, I’m participating in a new dialogue that I’m finding is just as – if not more – retrenched and unforgiving as a “bad Christian”. Basically, you’ve GOT to be kidding.

    In your defence, and as an evangelical Christian I, and others like me have come to find that evangelic missions based upon the travel of one or a group of inexperienced do-gooders who spend more on airfair and souvenirs than they do on aid could amount to a waste of needed monetary resources that could be better used as a donation. However, the bible clearly mandates a “go forth and multiply…” responsibility which is used to justify and empower those on these “rite of passage” ritual tours. A believer has no choice but to believe and act on this word…the “word of God”.

    To take this a step further is to also recognize that Christian missions were out in the world providing food, clothing, medicines and risking life and limb a century before any other (foundation supported) institutions that exist today. I have a friend who has been battling cancer for 5 years who is in Mexico at this moment pouring a concrete floor in a new church and teaching the locals how to install wiring. OK, he’s a rank amateur, but at the age of 58 he learned Spanish to be able to do this. He spends HIS own money to make sure the work is done, done correctly, with training of the local population, and done with the correct attitude and with hubris. He is my personal hero. He just happens to not be a muslim or an atheist.

    The conflict lies not with the secular vs. non-secular “best” choice, but how to expose more and more normal, average, everyday people to the benefits and rewards of committed giving and assisting. When a church sponsors a missions trip, parents send their kids because there is affordable, usually un-paid, volunteer supervision with experience chaperoning our children in a foreign land. If we don’t “raise our children up in the way…” as Christians, submitting them to these (possibly wasteful) experiences, who will? Secular non-profits? I doubt it. Would you personally lead a group of high school kids to Somalia with your own money? Let me know when that happens…

    Your suggestion is based in a lack of compassion, which I unfortunately share with you in some ways, for those average people just trying to help in any way they can. I suggest that using nets and water purification is no different than supplying medicine, doctors and concrete. These people are not the Conquistadors, they’re your neighbors! Someone’s got to do it or it won’t get done big enough or fast enough.

    Finally, there is a lot worse than a clumsy Christian with good intentions. I remember the secular donations of all sorts of “bad medicine”. Remember the powdered milk problems? No Christians there. Consider the Christian solution for AIDS being preached in Africa. Ineffective with sexually active adults maybe, but a righteous one that would prevent the need for costly treatment disciplines in those who pay attention. Hey, being saved may not be a secular answer, but that’s the definition of secular to begin with.

    Jim Simpson

    • Nonprofiteer Says:

      First, let me say I support your efforts to go around the foundations to provide support directly to worthy nonprofits.

      Second, I don’t dispute that people participate in charitable activities as part of a sincere belief in the value of spreading Christian gospel as well as anti-malarial bednets. I just don’t happen to share that belief, and therefore am not interested in having any portion of my donation go for that purpose. As a Jew and a non-believer, I have ample historical evidence for the notion that aid tied to evangelism is aid best rejected; for–as Rabbi Joshua knew enough to ask when confronted with a mixture of the secular and the religious–“What profit it a man to gain the world and lose his soul?”

      If the goal of these ministries is to educate young people in the value of giving and sharing, I commend that goal but insist that it be placed front and center; then people can decide whether they want to spend their charitable dollars on educating young people about religious giving or whether they want to spend those same dollars educating [presumably different] young people about secular giving, or about some other aspect of their cultural heritage. When the Jewish Federations raise money to send young Jews to Israel, they don’t pretend it’s for the benefit of the poor Israelis: they make clear it’s for the education of those young people.

      I don’t see how an observation that the same goal–ending water-borne and mosquito-borne diseases–can be accomplished without religion constitutes a “lack of compassion.” I want to eradicate those diseases as fast and as cheaply as possible; for that I choose UNICEF, which has no other agenda, rather than an agency with a spiritual agenda, whether secondary or primary.

      And if the “Christian solution for AIDS being preached in Africa” is, as I gather, abstinence, you’re correct that it’s ineffective; and ineffective treatments for fatal diseases can’t be excused on any spiritual basis. If we’re in the business of saving people’s lives–rather than their souls–we’re responsible to offer them the best medical care.

      But that’s the crux of our difference: you are, I gather, in the business of saving souls with your charity–the souls of those giving as well as those receiving. I’m in the business of saving lives, so that the people to whom those lives belong can make their own decisions about their own souls. And THAT is the “definition of secular to begin with.”

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