Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Bill Gates

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is one of the partners of the United Methodist Church in the Nothing But Nets campaign, so I tend to perk up my ears when I hear news of the foundation. This week, Bill and Melinda Gates sent out an annual letter, outlining their goals, hopes and progress on the issues of health that they care most about. But it was the following that caught my eye:

"Our spending in 2008 was $3.3 billion. In 2009, instead of reducing this amount, we are choosing to increase it to $3.8 billion, which is about 7 percent of our assets.

Although spending at this level will reduce the assets more quickly, the goal of our foundation is to make investments whose payback to society is very high rather than to pay out the minimum to make the endowment last as long as possible."

This is something different even than a theology of abundance (which is what I'm hearing most from people in church circles on how to talk about money). No one would argue that the Gates foundation has an abundance. But they are pushing ahead to give more because the need is greater--and because they can have more impact.

I'm not arguing that the Gates Foundation has any kind of theological basis or that their giving patterns fit a theological argument. But they are not hoarding, and that to me is good news. They are saying that when they see brothers and sisters in need, they don't just try to keep the institution safe guarded and going. Although I'm not sure I would term it "extravagant generosity", they are trying to be more generous, not less.

This is good for me. I'm hoping that this is good for the church. We need to be more generous, not less because there is much more need. And instead of hoarding for the future, our giving needs to have impact right now, when people are hurting and struggling all across the globe. We will always and everywhere need Jesus. But now there might be more opportunity to help people realize it. With our time and with our resources, I hope that we give bigger.

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