I answer the phone and the voice on the other end of the line chirps, “We want to give you 2 nights and 3 days in our luxurious Florida beach-front resort.”
I am immediately suspicious. “What is the catch?”
“There is no catch! This is our gift to you. We just need you to act now to reserve your spot. And then when you arrive, we will need an hour of your time to share all of the perks of the gift.”
“Ah-hah! So there IS a catch! Voluntarily submit myself to an hour of high-pressure manipulative sales pitch? No thank you.” <Click>
I have friends who delight in jumping through all the hoops to get the “free” gift. They have absolutely zero intention of kowtowing to the pressure, and they don’t. I tend to be more of the kind who would rather pay than endure the agony of a sales pitch. Others can’t say no to anyone and get locked into contracts and agreements they didn’t want, don’t need, and would be better off without. I once bought a $3000 vacuum cleaner because of a scheme like this.
I suspect that this time share sales technique has existed for as long as society has. Learning that if it seems too good to be true it probably is is a rite of passage. One bitten, twice shy. There’s no such thing as a free lunch. Etc. But the universality of the time share sales job doesn’t make it acceptable or moral or appropriate to use on our fellow man.
A group arrives in the inner city of your state’s largest metro area. They secure a building and start spreading the word.
Now available! Nutritious food, water, medical care, and a safe place to escape summer’s heat and winter’s cold!
Those without a home take note. They are excited and hopeful for the first time in their lives. Finally, a place where they are welcome. The police won’t come by and insist they move.
When they walk in on opening day, they discover the catch. As they gather in the main dining room, a guy stands up at the front and explains the conditions.
“You can eat, drink, receive medical care and take shelter here, but first you must listen to a [manipulative guilt-laden high-pressure] message about Jesus.”
Sound familiar? It should. I’ve seen it everywhere from homeless shelters to soup kitchens to children’s camps/child care (hello Vacation Bible School) to international child sponsorship programs. We Christians are not immune from using time share sales techniques to “evangelize.”
We should not be surprised, then, that the recipients of our time share charity have learned how to say the right things and jump through all the hoops in order to receive the physical benefits of our aid, without any intention of actually genuinely buying into our religion. We should not be surprised when people refuse aid at all because they refuse to jump through the hoops. And we should not be surprised by those who make wild and sweeping professions of one faith one day and another faith the next.
I am NOT saying that we should stop providing charity. Nor am I saying we should not tell others why we do the things we do. The Bible commands us to go into all the world and make disciples. The BIble commands that God’s people care for the orphan, widow, poor, and oppressed. We cannot squirm our way out from under either of these clear commands. But when you look in Scripture, you will not find these two things married the way we marry them.
The Bible never makes proselytizing a condition of providing charity and advocating for justice.
The Bible nowhere qualifies the command to help the widow, the orphan, the oppressed, and the poor. The Bible never says “help the Christian poor” or “help the poor only if they listen to a 30-minute sermon.” God told the Israelites that they are God’s people if they help the poor and bring justice to the oppressed. No qualifiers. No agenda. No strings attached. Just love. Scandalous love. Jesus love. The kind we teach and preach about – the free gift of God, that we do not deserve and cannot earn.
What if by our obedience to God’s command to care for the poor and bring justice to the oppressed, we painted a living-color picture of the unmerited favor of God?
What if we scandalized people with too-good-to-be-true-but-really-is-true generosity?
What if we give until it hurts, and then keep right on giving, just like Jesus?
And what if, in our giving, we pray that someone will ask us why we do it, why we give so much without a catch or agenda?
Then we could explain how God gave to us, and how our love for God gives us love for people and that we cannot help but share it with them. Wouldn’t that be far more powerful than manipulating people to jump through hoops?
God calls us to be something completely other than slick salesmen. God calls us to show others the scandalous grace available in Jesus. Let’s do better.