It took a while, but one day Heather intercepted a food package delivered to her JW grandma. Heather used to be a Witness, but says she no longer is. There were potatoes, onions, apples, and a cauliflower inside, but Heather smelled only a rat. She contacted the Counter.org people, who specialize in “food journalism that goes beyond the gustatory to uncover the money, power, and politics behind our plate.” They, it turns out, had been grumbling for some time about the USDA Farmers to Families program, and they launched an article critical of it. My faith group was in the headline, though for the most part it was about other groups, so I took time to write a response to it. I had posted on the topic once before.
The Witnesses’ description “that the boxes came from Jehovah—instead of taxpayers—represents a significant departure from standard operating procedure for federal food aid,” the Counter wrote. Well—okay, people of faith are kind of like that, ever describing good things as blessings from God, not unlike how secular people will say “If you can read, thank a teacher.” My two kids read voraciously, yet save for the 6th grade they have never seen the inside of a school. They read because their parents read. We read to them, but otherwise didn’t “teach” them too much. They learned by doing. Could you not even say “If you can read, thank God” for making our brains spongelike?
If there was anything hush-hush about the USDA program from the Witnesses point of view, as the article states, that never reached my ears nor those of my immediate circle. Within a few days I had posted on my own blog of it, a post that comprises Part 1 of this series. In our congregation sub-group, when an elderly woman remarked on how “the brothers” had bought this food, the one with oversight told her that it was not they—they were just distributing—it was a government program that they had signed on to.
I do get the concern expressed within the Counter article that maybe there is someone who needs the food more. And that certainly could be. The part where Robert Hendricks of the Witnesses says that they advised those who received packages not to turn them down, and later presents the rationale that they will be inclined to underestimate their own burden—“downplaying any private struggles with food insecurity”—I can see that, too. (My wife and I are not destitute, but we are retired and we do live off social security—we have lived modestly as Witnesses generally do, so that the stipend is far from huge) I responded the same way that Hendricks suggested some might respond: there will be others who need it more—and we were told that if that is the case, we could share with neighbors and others. I know of ones who have done this. How many? No idea. People of faith tend to take to heart Jesus’ counsel to not let the right hand know what the left is doing and to not to blow a trumpet in front of them whenever they give. (Matthew 6:2) At some point you have to put faith in the “little people” to do what is right.
The Pew Research Foundation has released studies to indicate that Jehovah’s Witnesses are the lowest income group of all faiths. Thus, even if aid to them went no further than they and their immediate associates, it would hardly be a travesty. But, as indicated, they were encouraged to share if they felt there were others who could benefit more.
The trick is finding these ones. The solution of leaving it up to the individual to share with cases of need that he/she personally knows of is probably as efficient as any, and it may be the most efficient of all. If you are poor, you will likely live in a poor neighborhood, and will know of serious cases of need. If you are a Witness not poor, you will know of some who are, because Witnesses are a tightly knit community, and can find out about such hard cases through them in the event that none are in your immediate area.
Though ostensibly about Jehovah’s Witnesses, the tone of the article is irreligious in general, and whatever potential abuses of USDA rules it describes are not those of Jehovah’s Witnesses, even of such lesser charges as swapping the government logo for a religious one. The box we received plainly said ‘Farmers to Families—USDA.’ and I am glad a photo of it appears in my linked post, because Heather may have forgotten to mention it.
Those church outfits will have to speak for themselves, and I noticed that some had no comment, in contrast to Hendricks, who did. Still, doesn’t jealousy account for much of the article’s tone—that communities of faith are motivated to have effective distribution channels that easily outstrip those of non-faith, those purely secular? Says the article: “Many food banks and other nonprofits have complained that they’re incurring significant, unexpected expenses related to storage and last-mile delivery.” Not to be unfeeling, but whose fault is that?
Faith, love of brother, and love of neighbor has moved ones of the JW organization to overcome these “unexpected expenses related to storage and last-mile delivery.” The packages I’ve received have been delivered directly to my door, and I have indeed shared some with others who were not recipients. Jehovah’s Witnesses thus set an example showing secular outfits how it can be done. All those outfits need to do is find similar selfless people.
Of course, they do have some. I’ve nothing but praise for secular food relief organizations. But they don’t have such selfless ones in anywhere near the abundance as does the Witness faith-based community, and that is why massive lines have accompanied some distributions—one wonders if in some cases the aid received is not offset by the cost of gasoline in retrieving it.
In the early days of the pandemic, before monitory relief came from the government that would temporarily take the pressure off some, I wrote a check to one of these food banks. I don’t like the idea of people going hungry. I wanted to give and I did so. Yet, as I did so, I had to come to grips with the certain knowledge that inefficiencies built into such programs would dilute my contribution. It pains me that this is the case. I wish it were not. I wish they could draw upon enough people in the overall community to solve distribution issues—it’s produce, after all—it can’t sit around forever.
At heart, the issue is that non-faith does not move people to be selfless to the same extent as does faith, and the article seems to me an expression of jealousy that such is the case. Is it so shocking that that when people of faith give they want to call attention to what implanted that generous spirit within them? The article appears even to have even political overtones, complaining at the perceived shortfalls of a Trump administration program.
Of course, if there are abuses of the system, then someone ought lower the boom on whoever is committing them. “Saving” people in the parking lot, soliciting donations for the program, offering prayer sessions as a condition, things that Witnesses do not do, does sound as though it might violate the spirit or even letter of the program. And are parishioners low income to start with, as JWs in the aggregate are, or are some well-off? All proper matters to look at, it seems. But at present, this looks to me like another article—I have seen many—that highlights the abuses of some churches and by headline suggests that Jehovah’s Witnesses are the worst of the lot, even though Witnesses steer clear of such shenanigans.
See Part 3 to follow.
Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the ebook ‘Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah’s Witnesses Write Russia’ (free).... and in the West, with the ebook ‘TrueTom vs the Apostates!’ (free)