Interfaith Musings: Charity Competitions

YANGON, BURMA - MAY 10:  Burmese children wait...Image by Getty Images via DaylifeAt the Gospel for Asia (GFA) annual conference, a missionary spoke about Myanmar missions were bearing fruit (via Ray Fowler):

More than 1.6 million homes were destroyed and 1.3 million acres of fertile crop land were damaged as the cyclone swept across an area known as “the rice bowl of Myanmar.”

Then GFA missionaries and volunteers showed up with emergency food and supplies. The missionary leader himself was on the crew of volunteers who helped serve food to survivors who took refuge at the GFA Bible College in Yangon (Rangoon). He, and every other missionary who served with him, were letting their lives preach the sermons during those days.

To an extent, this is what I was struggling with on a previous post (Hacking the Apostle’s Creed).  I think there are times to celebrate missions over conversions. 

I remember a story of the first supply plane that landed after a terrible storm in Africa, and the people who were without food or water gathered around the plane.  The suppliers opened boxes and started handing out….bibles.  Whoops.

So, kudos to the missionaries for appropriate action.  However, there is still a comparative aspect to the action that bothers me:

The people in this majority Buddhist country were stunned at the love these Christians showed to them. Two families who went without food for seven days after the storm articulated their thoughts about Jesus to the missionaries who brought them food.
Buddha did nothing while we were suffering. But your Jesus loves us,” the missionary reported. “Now every Sunday they are coming to church and worshipping the Lord.”

I’m unsure how I feel about criticizing the humane ethic of other religions and turning charity into a competition.  While I know the missionary is recounting the words of another, emphasizing the “superior” help of Christianity over Buddhism is not very nice, nor accurate.  While the numbers may say that Christians help more people than Buddhists, that doesn’t mean that Christians are “better” than Buddhists.

In short, charity shouldn’t be a competition between faiths, or even between churches or groups within the same faith.  We all do what we can, and be thankful for the opportunity to help.

Thoughts?

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Comments

  1. Ray Fowler says

    Hi Jeremy,

    Thanks for linking to the article at my site. I had a number of visitors comment that the quote at the end sounded like a charity competition between faiths. I didn’t intend for the post to come across that way, but enough people felt it that I must have been sloppy in presenting the post.

    Thank you for pointing out that the quote was not the missionary claiming that the Christians had done more than the Buddhists, but it was the Myanmar families themselves who said this. Of course, this says nothing about one being better than the other. It could be the Christians just had more resources available to help in this case.

    At the same time I still thought it was a striking quote, especially the way the Myanmar families phrased it. This was not put forth in terms of competing faith systems (Buddhism versus Christianity), but in terms of Buddha and Jesus. I found the phrase “Buddha did nothing .. but your Jesus loves us” profound, because I believe in the resurrection of Christ. If Buddha is dead, of course he did nothing. But if Jesus is resurrected, then he is alive and able to help.

    Also, while I agree that we should not be comparing charity efforts between Buddhism and Christianity, I do believe that it is okay to compare the teachings of Buddhism and Christianity. What do Buddhism and Christianity both teach about reaching out and helping one’s neighbor? What are the ethics of each system? And I think it is okay to ask questions about Buddha and Jesus. Was Buddha just a man? Was Jesus truly the Son of God? I would like to thing we can have the freedom to explore questions like these without getting caught up in charity competitions.

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