Is it appropriate for assemblies to donate to non-Christian charities?
I have no experience of charities that operate outside of the United Kingdom so my response has to be limited to the scope of what I know. However, the principles that I refer to apply anywhere and I trust they will be of help. Within the United Kingdom there are in excess of 200,000 registered charities that raise billions of pounds per annum and employ hundred of thousands of workers. Some of these charities will be involved in issues that would not be appropriate for Christians to support. Therefore, in those instances assemblies should not send them donations or display any of their literature. Any reputable charity will have a website, so time spent researching their online information should provide answers to any concerns anyone may have as to how they raise their funds and how they utilize their finances.
Nevertheless, there are vast numbers of charities that are doing things that do not conflict with any scriptural principles, even though they would make no claim to being a ‘Christian’ organization. It is in relation to these that the question arises as to whether it would be appropriate to financially support the services they provide. One general objection that might be aired is that some charities spend significant amounts of their income on administration so that only a percentage of what is given will reach those in direct need. Whilst this is a reasonable point, it has to be recognized that to run a charity in a legal, effective and efficient manner, does cost money and the larger the organization the greater are the unavoidable overheads.
Some might feel unwilling to donate assembly funds to any kind of charity that is not involved in what might be termed ‘Bible-based’ work. They will freely donate to various aspects of missionary activity, or send a gift to meet the costs of building or refurbishing a hall for use by an assembly. In addition, they might be happy to forward gifts to a third party for transmitting to one of the Lord’s servants somewhere in the world, but would not contemplate making a gift to a charity doing humanitarian work in some area blighted by disaster or disease.
The consequences of the fall have devastated human life in one way or another ever since that catastrophic day in Eden. Whilst much of the suffering and deprivation in the world is caused by human abuse, or mismanagement, the overall scale of need is monumental and there are millions whose lives are shattered. It was not significantly different in the days when our Lord lived here, and of Him it is recorded that He ‘went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil’, Acts 10. 38. As we follow His pathway in the Gospel narratives, we find numerous occasions when He dispensed food to the hungry, sight to the blind, healing to the sick and comfort to the bereft. It is acknowledged that these actions had a deeper motive than just resolving physical needs, but it cannot be denied that He was moved with compassion and showed mercy to those who were suffering.
As Paul concludes his letter to the churches in Galatia, he exhorts them as follows: ‘Let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith’, Gal. 6. 9-10. Whilst the pattern shown by the Lord and the precept given by the Apostle does not mandate that we must give to secular charities engaging in humanitarian relief, they do afford us the liberty to do so. On this basis, I see no reason why an assembly should not send a gift to an organization that is creditable and legally compliant, should it be the mind of the elders to do so.
It might not be a doctrine of scripture but there is some truth in the phrase concerning the destitute and needy that, ‘they don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care’. We may choose to prioritize our assembly giving to fellow believers, but we should not overlook the need of those who are not saved. Lydia was a woman full of good works and charitable deeds and when she died there were many beneficiaries who could testify to her generosity. I close with the words of Peter, ‘Having your conversation honest among the Gentiles: that, whereas they speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation’, 1 Pet. 2. 12.