I live in Austin, Texas, which is a decent-sized city. On a given day driving around, I probably see at least two or three people begging for money on the side of the road at stop lights. Usually, I only get approached by them once per two days (due to the probability of where my car is at the light, how fast they walk, etc.).
I do not know whether it’s best to give these people money or not. So I have done many different things in regard to these people. Here are some of them:
- Don’t give them anything; say a prayer for them; then remember this passage from the Bible (James 2:16)
- Give them a dollar or some change
- Give them a St. Vincent de Paul brochure and tell them where they can find it for help
- My latest: Give them a prayer card/booklet called I Thirst For You, with a dollar inside it
That passage from James is a killer, making it hard for me to see how I should not help them materially (part of this could be me being scrupulous). Giving them a dollar, however, doesn’t help very much and doesn’t do anything for them spiritually. Also, I have read that many of these people are scam artists who are not really in need, or at least, just “professionally” make their living off begging, without ever trying to improve their life. Should I give such a person a dollar?
Giving people a St. Vincent de Paul brochure has been good, though I don’t know how many of them took me up on the offer. Some people knew about them and had even been to them; most seemed hopeful when I told them how SVdP would help. Only one time I recall a man was quite bitter about SVdP and churches in general saying “They didn’t ever help me any.” When I was in SVdP, we helped everybody we could, any oftentimes helped people multiple times over the course of years, so I had my doubts about his statement that they wouldn’t help him, but I didn’t argue it.
The last thing I have been doing I like the best: The prayer cards are really good and powerful, and the dollar is helping them materially. I say a prayer for them, that they will read the card and God will help them. Do we Christians have an obligation to give these beggars any money at all?