The Black Resilience in Colorado (BRIC) Fund Blog features the unique voices and perspectives of people who make up the diverse fabric of the Colorado community who are engaged in philanthropy. It's a platform to share their comments and opinions on how people in the Black community give back. African American churches are one of the top recipients of charitable gifts, and in turn, have a long history of community charitable giving. This month, we invited Reverend Eugene Downing from New Hope Baptist Church as our guest blogger to share his philosophy rooted in the church and message for everyone to consider.
The New Hope Baptist Church community believes that giving is a responsibility born out of what’s already been given to us; for that reason, we call it a “return.” One of the best ways to describe this concept comes from an intriguing episode narrated in the New Testament where Jesus is sitting in a courtyard watching parishioners bring offerings to the temple in Jerusalem. Along with those bringing large sums of money, Jesus noticed a poor widow who brought coins worth a couple of handfuls of flour. Despite the infinitesimal amount, Jesus remarked that she’d given more than all the others because while most gave a token of their wealth, this woman gave a proportionate gift of all she had even in her poverty. This unnamed, impoverished woman became the subject of Jesus’ curiosity because she presented herself in her community and contributed publicly toward the community’s greatest asset even amid the challenges of her personal condition.
In return, she was recognized by the Son of God because she gave based on what she had to offer. It was a gift of great integrity that required vulnerability, which are two traits central to true altruism in the world today. In most faith-based communities, genuine giving and true philanthropy grow from a place of being vulnerable, meaning we accept the fact we’re relinquishing something that would without a doubt be materially beneficial. That vulnerability, however, is undergirded by the belief that we know we would have nothing to give if not for the creator, eternal being, the God we serve, who’s provided the many gifts we’ve received in this life. She could have easily given nothing, and would not have been second-guessed due to her situation. However, she honestly assessed the meager amount she could provide and returned a proportionate gift to the community that she saw as an asset. That’s the kind of integrity Christians give to their communities, and the type of integrity all of us should employ when we take an assessment of what we have as it relates to what we return.
At New Hope Baptist Church, we’ve used this assessment to return and give in times of crisis. With the help of our congregation, we have been able to support community organizations, academic scholarships, families, and individuals in the Denver Metro Area. Our congregation gives to people in need, and institutions we know are assets in the community. We’ve partnered with agencies to provide to others, and we‘ve recommended agencies for recipients of giving based on our experiences with their work in the community. We believe in returning to the community based on what God has so graciously given to us.
The world around us presents many needs. Yet, we’re given so much - air to breathe, water to drink and physical forms of varying degrees to live out our lives. All those things are gifts we are called upon to return to our communities to help those in need. As reflected by the story of the widow, there are assets in our immediate community that need our gifts of integrity and vulnerability. As church-goers consider how much God has given, church-going or not, believer, agnostic or atheist, no human being has created the universe in which we live. When we neglect that understanding and responsibility, we engender a less than favorable look from the creator, the universe and that which is beyond ourselves. On the flip side of the story, other people like the widow came and did not give based on their integrity or vulnerability. There were also people on the other side of the meager coins the widow gave who were responsible for providing their abilities, knowledge, capacity and networks to ensure the welfare of others, yet others did not.
They didn’t live up to their responsibility, and modern exegetes interpreted Jesus’ response to them as what we would identify colloquially as a side-eye. Basically, the look Gary Coleman’s character on the 80’s TV show “Different Strokes” would give his brother before asking, “what you talkin’ bout Willis”? Though this woman was essentially a philanthropist, Jesus gave the overall situation the side-eye because people who held power, wealth, and wherewithal did just the opposite. They were neither giving back nor returning the favor or being vulnerable. They decided to withhold some of the wherewithal they’d attained. Wealthy, capable, able-bodied achievers held back while a 1st Century widow assessed her resources then gave out of her poverty.
This simple scenario captures the essence of the opportunity before all of us. No matter how little or significant our resources are, we possess varying degrees of ability to contribute to assets in the community around us. It’s that very reason people of faith give because we’ve all received different degrees of blessings in life and have a responsibility to return in proportion with that degree. So, whether tithe, offering, or philanthropic giving to local institutions, we’re not in competition with our neighbors. We’re in a search for honesty within ourselves. We are all called to look within for the portion we can return based on what we’ve so generously received. Someone said, “our life is to be like a river, not a reservoir,” what we have should flow out just as it flows in.
Rev. Eugene Downing, D. Min., Pastor
New Hope Baptist Church