What is Christian Philanthropy and what makes it different?
I’ve been having an ongoing dialogue with a friend of mine – we’ll call him Jon – about whether the world needs a christian impact investing movement. Is it just marketing gloss that we use to attract donors? This is an especially important question for me as I’ve been saying Impact Investing Foundation exists specifically to help Jesus followers use their investable and charitable assets alike to build the Kingdom of God.
But if there’s no use in differentiating between “Christian” impact and “secular” philanthropy, then let’s not waste our time. I’m publishing a bit of our conversation because I’d like to get your input.
Jon asks, “What is the difference between “secular” philanthropy and “Christian” philanthropy? By its very definition, philanthropy just is Christian behavior. The fact that people who may reject the tenets of Christianity but otherwise embrace philanthropy does not change that fact either.”
My thoughts: The distinction between “secular” and “Christian” philanthropy is not in the specific activities themselves, but rather in the motivation and message behind the actions. “Secular” philanthropy will care for the poor and work to bring access to clean water because it’s the right thing to do, or because human life has value, or because of a sense of duty or to achieve justice, peace, equality or any of the virtues. The Christian also has these motivations, but there’s also something deeper at work for those who follow Christ.
For the Christian, we certainly work to alleviate suffering and injustice in this life, but we also believe that there’s a better life to come. We believe that the work of Jesus Christ in atoning for our sin on the cross and defeating death by rising to life again is real. And that work of Christ allows us to experience intimacy with our Creator. It brings us inner healing and allows us be transformed from the inside out. Finally, it gives us eternal life in the new heavens and the new earth. All of this is really good news. For the Christ follower, it would be disingenuous to bring someone clean water without also showing him about this good news.
Not only that, but the Christian is motivated in her philanthropy by a profound sense of gratitude to God. He is the ultimate generous giver and our charitable gifts are simple attempts to offer thanks for all He has given us.
So it can be said that “secular” philanthropy fits inside of “Christian” philanthropy. All of the issues that secular philanthropist fights for, the Christian should fight for as well plus adding the good news. Clean water…in the name of Jesus. Racial healing…in the name of Jesus. Access to education…in the name of Jesus. Proper care of the planet…out of gratitude to the Creator.
Jon asks, “Is there any mileage, outside of marketing, which is gained by making this distinction, between “secular” and “Christian” philanthropy?”
My thoughts: It’s not so much about gaining mileage, but about being true to our beliefs as discussed above. Having said that, sometimes people act badly and they do the right thing for the wrong reasons. Not every Christian is a hypocrite, though. We seek to be and to serve the good kind of Jesus follower.
I’ve heard from a few Jesus followers that they don’t think we should have a segment of philanthropy or impact investing especially devoted to Christian donors and Christian causes. But I haven’t really heard a compelling argument to support this.
If you have thoughts on these topics, I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.
Aimee Minnich is a founder of Impact Foundation, facilitating charitable investments in Ministry Enterprises and other impact companies. She was formerly President and General Counsel of National Christian Foundation – Heartland. He’s the author of ‘The Profitable Charity.’ She and her husband, Marshall have three adorable, high-energy kids.
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