American congregations giving record amounts to poor countries

American church congregations of all denominations — Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim and Hindu — gave $8.8 billion in private relief and assistance to the developing world in 2006 according to a recent study by the University of Notre Dame’s Center for the Study of Religion and Society and the Hudson Institute’s Center for Global Prosperity (CGP). According to the Institute, that amount from religious congregations was more than one-third of the official U.S. government aid of $23.5 billion.

“The study examines religious and development giving that goes directly to orphanages and schools and other efforts in areas such as Mexico and Haiti, as well as monies given directly to U.S.-based organizations such as the Red Cross and Catholic Relief Services,” said David H. Sikkink, associate professor of sociology and the Center’s director.

More than 50 percent of the congregations gave an average of $10,500 to U.S.-based organizations that are involved in relief and development efforts and more than 30 percent made donations directly to programs in developing countries. More than 30 percent conducted short-term mission or service trips.

Sikkink also pointed out that while congregations consider evangelism and service to both be part of a holistic ministry, the survey measured only expenditures for items such as food, clothing and medicines and excluded financial support for evangelism.

“The sample was randomly selected: it was diverse and in addition to mainline and conservative Protestant congregations, it included Catholic parishes, synagogues and Muslim and Hindu congregations,” Sikkink said. “It was also more ethnically diverse than earlier surveys, which had difficulty surveying low-income and African-American congregations.”

Among the findings from the study is that Catholics tend to work with U.S.-based aid agencies, while Protestants (particularly conservative Protestant organizations) work more directly with overseas programs.

Interestingly enough, a recent article (with a great graph) in The Economist about this high level of American private giving cites “An established culture of philanthropy and charity contributes to direct aid-giving, as does a generous tax regime.” (Emphasis mine). Aside from the inference that the U.S. government is “generous” in the amount of their own money it allows its citizens to keep, it belies the notion that Americans who think they can do better things with their money than the government can are “greedy.”

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