BBC Radio 4:Rev Roy Jenkins - 28/11/15

You are listening to a programmes from BBC Radio 4.

We were a small group, fewer than ten, and only one of us didn’t have a bus pass tucked away somewhere. As usual, part of our meeting involved talking about people and situations of concern before doing what often seems the only thing we can offer - praying for them. We’d thought about refugees and terrorism, and then the oldest member, 94 years of age and almost blind, spoke with some passion.

She’d been trying to do something about the charity appeals which arrived every day. Her faith told her that having received freely, she should give freely; but there were so many good causes, she couldn’t possibly support them all, and it worried her. This week with her daughter, she weighed up the claims and made her choices. They thought she’d cracked it. The next morning, the post brought another, and she really didn’t see how she could say no...

Her story lit a fuse: everyone there had shared the dilemma. They told of weekly appeals from organisations they already gave to regularly; of repeated requests after making a single donation; of feeling manipulated by tear-jerking images and by unwanted gifts of pens, labels, calendars, wrapping paper… ‘If I responded to everything,’ said one, ‘I’d need to be sending out my own appeal.’ These are generous and caring people, and they’re fed up - not least at the apparent waste in it all; and I suspect there are lots like them.

I realise that many needs would simply not be met without the work of charities. You do have to spend money to make money and the market is frighteningly competitive. I also know that after well-publicised scandals earlier this year, some of the biggest charities have committed never to act in abusive ways, and set out in detail their fund-raising principles.

Which is fine, as far as it goes. But I wonder whether the sheer volume isn’t in danger of crushing the very human desire to respond to people in need. I don’t know how this could be prevented, but I hope somebody’s working on it, for all our sakes.

Of course it’s good to share as we can, because we’re grateful for what we have. It makes sense to attempt, with my friend of 94, to select a number of good causes, but then to have no scruple about sending every other appeal to the recycling bin. Jesus didn’t heal every sick person in first century Palestine, and we shouldn’t be feeling guilty because we can’t do better than him.

The Lord loves a cheerful giver, we’re told. It would be a shame if a non-stop battering of our emotions turned any of us into grumpy givers, and worse still if we simply turned away.