Last year I reprinted in this blog an old parish newsletter article on the relation between religious practice and charitable giving. Reviewing that article renewed my interest in the subject, and I did a little research on the numbers since the article was originally published years ago. Here is a subsequent article that resulted from that research:
One of those [old newsletter] articles that seemed worth preserving concerned the connections between religious practice and charitable giving. I reported that those in the United States who gave to religious charities (meaning churches or religious organizations, but NOT including religious-affiliated schools or hospitals) gave an astonishing 87.5% of all charitable contributions in the country and three-quarters of contributions even to the secular charities. These figures for money gifts also held roughly true for volunteering. 54% of regular public worshippers also volunteered their time to charities, while only 32% of Americans who did not worship publicly volunteered. Those who made religious charitable gifts were as likely to volunteer for secular charities as those who did not worship and who gave only to secular charities.
After reviewing this old article, I decided to look at current figures. I find that the basic picture from 15 years ago is still true. Articles by Joe Carter (Acton Institute blog) and by Karl Zinsmeister (winter 2019 Philanthropy Roundtable) report the following:
- Among Americans who attend services weekly and pray daily, 45 percent had done volunteer work during the previous week. Among all other Americans, only 27 percent had volunteered somewhere.
- Americans with a religious affiliation make average annual charitable donations of $1,590, versus $695 for those with no religious affiliation. In addition to giving larger amounts, the religious give more often—making gifts about half again as frequently.
- Two thirds of people who worship at least twice a month give to secular causes, compared to less than half of non-attenders, and the average secular gift by a church attender is 20 percent bigger.
- As a fraction of income, Americans donate over two and a half times as much as Britons do, more than eight times as much as the Germans, and at 12 times the rate of the Japanese. “American religiosity plays a central role in that distinctive pattern,” notes Zinsmeister.
- Over the last couple decades, soaring interest in the poorest of the poor by evangelical Christians in particular has made overseas giving the fastest growing corner of American charity. One result: U.S. voluntary giving to the overseas poor now totals $44 billion annually—far more than the $33 billion of official aid distributed by the U.S. government.
Zinsmeister’s article provides a wealth of facts and information about the way religious groups and religious people make the country a better place. Religious people are two and a half times as likely to adopt a child. AA groups, support groups for those with HIV/AIDS, programs to help the unemployed, staffing for groups such as Habitat for Humanity and local homeless shelters, donations to community food banks: all depend heavily on religious volunteers and church facilities. And evidence over many decades indicates that people who are active in their religious group do better than others as students, are happier, have a better chance at marital success, are less likely to develop severe alcohol or drug problems, and in general seem more stable and engaged in their entire community.
Despite these facts, a large majority of the roughly 60% of the U.S. population that is secularized or religiously unaffiliated believes that religious groups do little to help social problems, with a significant proportion of that group being actively hostile toward religious groups. Increasingly in the U.S. there are partisan and age-related dimensions to this attitude towards religious groups: around 40% of self-identified Democrats now see religious groups as a negative influence on the nation, while younger persons, who increasingly are religiously detached, are also increasingly likely to share that negative judgement.
The partisan element to the situation is puzzling, since the two most politically outspoken and monochromatically partisan religious groups in America (African-American Protestants and Reformed Jews) are solidly Democratic. Be that as it may, however, the persistent fact is that the religiously active part of our population is the backbone of charitable giving, secular as well as religious. If secularizing trends continue, charitable giving of all sorts will shrink and an important ingredient in forming deep, engaged, and supportive communities will dry up. As Zinsmeister puts it, if ‘faith spirals downward, voluntary giving is very likely to follow.’