The 10 percent solution to what ails our country

The long-term impact of declining church attendance is obvious – at least to me. As fewer people find their way into America’s churches, fewer people are giving as an expression of their faith. Empty seats in houses of worship translate almost immediately into fewer dollars contributed to all kinds of charitable causes – both faith-based and secular.

These words from an August 2011 post here at Generous Matters are repeated in a recent piece by Washington Post religion writer Lisa Miller. Like me, she’s concerned that “as religious affiliation in America declines, so, correspondingly, does generosity.”

The occasion of Ms. Miller’s reflections on religiosity and giving was the release of presidential hopeful Mitt Romney’s tax returns and the resulting tizzy over his 10 percent tithe to his church. (Overall, Americans give between 2 -3 percent of annual income to charity.)

Miller uses Romney’s giving record as the doorway to a broader and, in my opinion, more interesting discussion about the impact of “religiously observant Americans” on society at large.  I encourage you to read the full piece, but here’s some of what Miller has to say.

This correlation between religious giving (and, I would argue, giving in general) and niceness, or altruism, isn’t just a cute trope dreamed up by academics. In an America defined by a dramatic lack of fairness, at a time when that lack of fairness is a top-tier political issue, the question of who’s giving to what, and how much, matters. And it matters not just in the ‘thousand points of light’ sense: The more individuals and corporations give, the less the government has to.

Giving, and giving until it hurts, forces you to recognize that, like a parent, you’re responsible for other people — whether in your own community or around the world. When you lay down your money, you say, ‘This (church sanctuary, child, environmental hazard) is my problem.’ Providing a sense of interconnected obligation is traditionally what religious communities have done best, and it is no surprise that the religious groups that are growing fastest in America — Mormons, Pentecostals, certain sects of Jews — are those that make demands on their members’ time and money.

I’ve said it before, and I say it again. Generous matters.

Related articles:

10 things pastors should remember about giving

Doing good without us

Reaching Millennials through stewardship evangelism

Teach your children (to give) well

What's your take on this topic?

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