Many years ago, I overheard a mother talking about graduation announcements with her teenaged child in a restaurant where I was eating. Apparently they were going over a list of folks who would receive announcements and the child started asking who most of the people were. The mother explained that they were co-workers of one or another of the parents, were “old friends,” or were even “extended family” members who had never met the child or had not seen him since infancy.
I have to admit that I felt a bit like I was listening to a couple of Internet phishing experts planning out their next round of extortion of the kindly. What the mother was doing was helping her child to expand the haul of graduation gifts by casting as large a net as possible.
This sort of crassness really plucks my nerves, though it hardly surprises me that these sorts of things happen. They’ve been a part of human culture forever, as kinship always has included social obligations like gifts and material support. What really drives me batty, though, is when Christians do the same thing, commodifying fellow persons as cash cows for financial support.
Perhaps the most extreme case I know of happened to a life-long friend. She had fallen out of her church for a particular reason and had not attended in over twenty years. While she still was on the mailing list and received her weekly newsletter, at no time had anyone from the church visited her to see what had happened. There were no calls from the pastor or the deacons. No calls from a Sunday school teacher. Nothing. Zip. Nada. She just fell off the earth as far as that congregation was concerned.
Until an ambitious building campaign came along.
Suddenly a team of deacons arrived at her door with a slick packet of information, asking her to fill out a pledge card and commit to gifts over and above her tithes. You can imagine what her reaction was. As a churchman, I was horrified and genuinely embarrassed. They didn’t care about her soul, apparently, merely her checkbook.
I wish I could say that these occurrences were rare; however, I never cease to be amazed at how often I hear from people I haven’t seen in twenty years – not a call, an email, or a poke on Facebook – who have sent solicitations for their upcoming mission trip, shown up selling wrapping paper for their Christian school, or sent a form letter that offered up some sort of veiled threat to the eternal security of my soul if I did not support whatever cause they have taken on themselves. It’s almost as though the guy who invented the chain letter had gotten into the fundraising business: ‘if you don’t give to us, calamities will happen to the entire world and it will be your fault, including the damnation of those souls who won’t be reached because you didn’t write a check.’
Please don’t misunderstand my point; nothing makes me want to whip out my checkbook and produce some financial fruit more than when a young lady who has been one of our babysitters needs help to go on a mission trip or when a missionary pastor I once taught lets me know of a need that they have. We are called to be good stewards of God’s incredible generosity toward us and to make financial decisions on our household budgets so that we may give both liberally and joyfully.
There is something wrong, however, with debasing past relationships that have long been neglected with solicitations that reduce friendships to spiritual extortion. It makes the Church look greedy at best and vacuous at worst when we do this to non-believers in order to support “righteous” causes. Current requests without current relationships do not reflect a healthy view of our shared humanity. We owe our “friends” more than that.