Religious Giving: For the Love of God, ed. By David H. Smith, 2010 Indiana University Press, Bloomington, IN.
Rev. Neil Allen
This book is a series of essays considering the religious giving of the Abrahamic traditions of Judaism, Islam and Christianity. In it you will find vital information about giving practices and motivation for giving.
It begs the question, “Who will read this book?” It also makes one wonder about their motivation. It is assumed that pastors, educators, philanthropic agencies will find this interesting though its first chapter moves the reader into facts, figures, while challenging assumptions about giving. This forensic approach may put off the casual reader. However, those who wade through it will discover it is packed with fresh insights about ourselves, and each other, while helping to dispel common assumptions about giving in these three religious groups.
To this Christian oriented reviewer, the essays on Islam and Judaism also help put our “cousins” of faith in refreshing new light. However, I found myself diving deepest into David Smith’s (editor) personal reflections in chapter 10, which, I might add, is a product of the rich discussion group that the authors of the various chapters shaped for Smith.
Like many, in these diverse and interactive times, Smith almost seems shocked that the term “religious” does not evoke a common ground for discussion groups. This is due in part to the differing ways we orient to, theologize about, and culturally orient to “God.” Devotion, tradition and culture each play a role in this intriguing invitation to “get to know” each other.
Smith’s insights into the basic questions of motivation are also fascinating. Does the religious giver feel a sense of obligation, or is it a sense of gratitude as motivation. Do they give out a sense of responsiveness or merely as a cultural process of giving that engages us? Many will come to this discussion for a frank and honest review of themselves or as a way of understanding the people they serve.
Smith also directs these insights to those he assumed would still be reading this collection of essays, namely those who want to develop strategic methods to attract gifts through these “religious” channels. In this potent and frank paragraph he puts the worship leaders and pastors on notice by suggesting that “dull and boring” worship service leads to uninspired giving. He also re-discovers the painful realities most of our pastors are all too aware; attendance affects giving and engaging ministries helps move people for disconnected into better understanding those whom we are serving. The later is “painful” to most pastoral and missional leaders when their best efforts yield a small response.
Smith addresses many other questions in this marvelous and frank chapter that will call all of us who consider ourselves as religious “movers and shakers” into a fresh, unclouded and very personal look into the nature of our religiosity.
I found the reading of this book tedious at times but ever so rewarding too. It moved the ideas of stewardship and “religious” giving from a back-burner, a long since beat-to-death topic, out in the open where I was invited to do my own forensic diagnosis as a leader, motivator, worships director and mission-prototyper of participatory ministries.
Through this honest approach the next logical step is to engage our religious friends and neighbors into our own discussion groups. To that end, I will recommend this engaging discussion.
Pastor Neil W. Allen Interim Minister – First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Port Angeles, WA.