From the Archives: May 1982

For a long time I’ve had a particular loathing for charity. Yet the scripture “Give to all who beg from you” always flashed in my mind like a neon sign whenever someone on the street approached me for some change. “You need change, all right,” I would say to myself. And with a certain smugness I reminded myself that I had made changes in my lifestyle, moved into a low-income neighborhood, joined a community, devoted my life to helping bring God’s kingdom of justice to earth. So don’t bother me for pennies. I’m striking at the systemic roots of the problem.

But Esther nagged me like a headache. Alcoholic, homeless, incoherent, she hovered at 13th and U Streets and zeroed in on me for handouts like a pigeon after crumbs in the park. ... She always asked for money, and I always had my rationalizations for refusing: 1) She’d just misuse it anyway, 2) I’d only be creating an unhealthy dependence, 3) There are agencies that handle her kind of problems ...

What got to me finally was a realization that scripture doesn’t say, “Give to those who beg as long as you know they won’t spend it on cheap alcohol” any more than it says, “Love your enemies as long as they’re not Russians developing nuclear weapons.” ... As we give of our time, energy, and resources, we must be careful not to cut off the victims while we’re so busy hacking away at the roots of injustice.

Joyce Hollyday was associate editor of Sojourners when this article appeared.

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