Wednesday, February 07, 2007

How should we respond to panhandlers?

Jonathon Choe created a great documentary about panhandlers in Chicago for our latest podcast. Jesus said in Luke 6:30 to "give to everyone who asks of you", yet perhaps giving money to panhandlers might not always be helpful to them or the best use of our donations. What do you do when people ask you for money?


Rebecca said...

Thanks for sharing this with us, Arloa. This is one of those ethical dilemmas that just kind of sits in the back of my head all of the time. Right now, I've made the decision not to give to panhandlers with my head because so many people that I trust say that it only enables them.

Still, my heart struggles with this decision. Who am I to withold my "shirt also" just because I don't think that person will spend it appropriately? Did Christ tell us that whatever we did for the least of these, unless they'll spend it on booze, we've done for him?

Too often, I feel like my choice not to give is based in discomfort and cultural superiority. No one has judged me for how I would spend my money by witholding my paycheck or a birthday check. No one has ever said I earned too much for too little work, like Jonathan Choe does when he says in the within the first few sentences, "They panhandle because they know it's easy money." I get to retain my dignity at my job. I consider that "easy money." Why should I think my job is any different for a panhandler's job? Who knows what God will do with the moment when we respect people on the street enough to let hem make their own decisions just as we have been allowed to make our own decisions? God gave man free choice while man was still perfect in the Garden. Doesn't it defy God to take that away from another one of his creatures, holy and dearly loved?

I worry that the choice to give is actually about me and not about the panhandler. Paternalism is not good for my soul. You said it well when you talked about keeping our hearts soft. Who is it that said, "It's not important that I be successful, just that I am faithful?"

Like I said, I am never sure that I'm doing the right thing in withholding a quarter. Thanks for giving me reason to go back and think about it again.

Kris said...

I usually don't look at the person and keep walking. I feel guilty, sad for the person, thankful to God for food, clothing and shelter. Sometimes I also feel scared depending on the situation.

Arloa Sutter said...

Great comments. I heard John Piper say in a sermon that when he stands before God, he doesn't think God is going to say, "Shame on you John for giving away too much money to panhandlers".

Also, Ronnie from church told me a few weeks ago that he gives whatever people ask. If they ask for a buck he gives a buck. If they ask for change he gives change. He said when he looked at his charitable giving for the year, the amount he gave to panhandlers who asked him for money was pretty insignificant.

I think it is about us in the sense that we get to meet Jesus in "his distressing disguise" and have to make a decision about what we will do for the "least of these". (Matt. 25)

Keri Wyatt Kent said...

A few years ago in Denver, panhandler asked a friend and I for money to get a meal at McDonalds. We could tell he'd been drinking. But we said, we'll buy you dinner at McDonalds. We bought him a burger and fries and a coke. And we sat with him for a few minutes and talked. He talked to us candidly about his struggle with alcoholism. We listened, and I told him Jesus understands his struggles and wants to help him get sober. He talked about how he knows he's messed up, but he loves God, and how God helps him survive. then he asked if he could pray for my friend and I. If he could pray for us! and he did. It was a pretty profound experience.
I'd much rather give someone food or a gift certificate for McDonalds than money. Or buy them a cup of coffee.