To Give or Not to Give to Street Beggars

It’s a dilemma I’m not faced with much in suburban Colorado Springs. But there was a time when I had to deal with it daily during my six year tenure on Capitol Hill. Sometimes I gave a buck or two, sometimes I offered to buy food, but most of the time I simply said “I’m sorry” and walked away.

I never felt secure in any of my responses. Would giving money help enable an otherwise able bodied man to be a professional beggar? Do I continue to offer food when most reject it, making me feel like I’ve insulted them? Is walking away ever justifiable in light of Matthew 5:42, “Give to the one who begs from you”?

So what is our personal responsibility for Christian benevolence in these situations? According to Michael Spencer of Internetmonk.com, it’s generosity “tempered by prudence, wisdom and good judgment.” In his post “Should I give money to people on the street who ask for it?,” Michael lists 14 points for us to consider on this issue.

Here’s a sample:

7. Dave Ramsey tells the story of working with his church’s benevolence ministry. They put three guidelines into place for all people asking for financial or food assistance. 1) Work an hour or two at the church. 2) Meet with a member of the church to make out a budget. 3) Attend one church service. Ramsey says that over 95% of persons asking for financial help did not return when these guidelines were given to them. This is a good indicator of the actual makeup of most benevolence requests.

8. If a person does not believe that prudence and wisdom need to accompany generosity, consider this situation: John and Jenny are at the movies. They come out and a panhandler asks for $20 for gas. Jenny gives it to him and they skip dinner together. The next day, Jenny and John are enrolling in college. A panhandler meets Jenny on the steps of the administration building and asks for $2000 to fly to his mother’s funeral in the Solomon Islands. Jenny has the money in her checkbook. Should she write the check? If not, why not? If prudence and wisdom should come into play with $2000, then it should also come into play with $20.

I encourage you to read the entire post. These insights may prove helpful the next time someone asks you for a handout.

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