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by the DSC Commission on Religion and Race

As we approach the Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons, we may find ourselves reflecting on the many ways we have experienced God’s grace and love in our lives. In these seasons of gratitude, we may be compelled to give to those who seem not as fortunate. It is natural to feel a stirring in our hearts to give generously and without condition and we often want to express this by doing acts of charity.

As Christians, we are called to care for the poor and most vulnerable around us. And our founder, John Wesley, called us to do all the good we can, in all the ways we can.

Sometimes, however, our intentions, as well-meaning as they can be, can focus more on the experience of the giver rather than the receiver. Sometimes, they unintentionally continue cycles of dependence, paternalism and harm to communities of color and communities that are economically disadvantaged. Works of charity can sometimes trap people in unhealthy patterns where they cannot establish financial, social and cultural freedom and independence. This understanding of charity might be confusing or offensive. That is ok. Sit with that feeling. Explore why you may feel that way.

One of our roles as the Desert Southwest Conference Commission on Religion and Race, is to facilitate vital conversations about religion, race and culture. Often that takes the form of education in anti-racism, cross-cultural competency, and privilege at all levels of The UMC.

We understand cross-cultural competency as the ability to understand and engage effectively with people from different cultures, turning away from the systems of oppression and divisions that shape our world. In this season of giving, we invite you to explore ways of empowering, lifting up, and bringing others to a more holistic way of living.

We want to be clear that we are not saying that acts of goodness are inherently bad. Instead, we simply encourage you to dig deeper in order that we may do better as we examine the ways our intentions can be genuinely beneficial to those receiving.

Here are some questions to consider when exploring charitable options this season:

In what ways does this project/group/organization help people on the margins stay in or overcome cycles of dependence?

What are the racial identities of those who are giving and those who are receiving?

Is there an expectation from the giver(s) of how the receiver(s) should feel/act/respond when receiving the gift?

Is the end result something that will help the recipient in sustainable ways?

Is there a way that the giver can engage with the recipient in meaningful ways besides the end result? Examples might be: learning about the culture or background of the recipient or the community the recipient comes from; understanding the social, political, environmental, and other influences that cause the recipient and others to be in this situation; investing and/or committing to long-term giving and not just at the holiday season; eliminating expectations of debt or “owing” gratitude from the recipient for the end result.

The DSC CORR invites you into deeper reflection during this holiday season. Please feel free to contact us if you have questions or want to explore more.

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