Faith and Money: But, we’re generous, aren’t we?

This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series Faith and Money
This stone collection box has been safeguarding church donations for centuries.

This stone collection box has been safeguarding church donations for centuries.

As Americans, we take pride in our country and our accomplishments—including our generosity. Americans respond generously to aid the victims of natural and man-made calamities, most recently, the Oklahoma tornadoes and Boston bombings.

When it comes to faith and money, however, could pride be greater than actual giving?

This week, we’re looking at various issues around faith and money, drawing on the insightful reporting of journalist David Briggs. He looked into research on faith and giving and, it turns out, the faithful think they are a whole lot more generous than they really are. As Briggs summarizes, “Churchgoers like to think of themselves as generous and cheerful givers, but for many the flesh appears to be weak when it comes to living up to their own standards for charitable giving.”

His conclusion is based on the results of a national “Science of Generosity Survey” conducted by sociologists Christian Smith and Heather Price. About one of four respondents said they tithed 10% of their income to charity. But, it turns, out only 3% actually gave more than 5%. The kicker is that the most faithful were the ones who were most likely to over-report giving. The most faithful said that religion was very important to them and they frequently went to religious services—but they were tight with their wallets.

In their book, Passing the Plate: Why American Christians Don’t Give Away More Money, sociologists Smith, Michael Emerson and Patricia Snell report that 20% of Christians in the United States give no money to charity at all. Most give less than 2% of their income to charity.

Are you surprised to learn that Christians overestimate their generosity?

Or that they don’t give much to charity?

What explains this behavior?

Please leave a comment below:

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  1. David Briggs says:

    Thank you, Wayne, for all your work helping each of us reflect on important issues of our shared values.

    One thought I may offer to this conversation is whether the political and cultural dialogue emphasizing the perceived obligations of a tiny part of the population — the top one percent or two percent of income earners — has diminished the sense of personal responsibility the rest of us have to love and care for our neighbors.

    The political pandering offers an attractive storyline that most of us who earn more than the approximately $45,000 median household income are in need of greater relief. But isn’t the more compelling moral argument that my neighbor’s need for health care, a place to live and a decent education should make me more willing to share of my abundance to meet these basic requirements of human dignity.

    Just a thought.