Donor Perks

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Listen to “Donor Perks” by Fred Smith

 

There are two instances in Luke’s writings where Roman centurions get special treatment for being good people and influential friends. The first is the Roman centurion in Luke whose valued servant is ill and the second is Cornelius in Acts who had a vision of an angel telling him to bring Peter to his home. For both, they had earned a reputation of being godly men whose gifts to Jews had been generous. It’s the first centurion who interests me the most for a couple of reasons.

First, it seems he sends some elders of the Jews to make his case to Jesus. As they describe it to Jesus he is a man who deserves this favor because he “loves our nation and has built our synagogue.” I can imagine any centurion thinking this is the only way to get access to Jesus and the Jewish elders assuring him they can move his case to the front of the line and get the ear of Jesus. After all, he is a significant donor, a good man, a friend of Israel, and such a leader would expect this. As well, it would be useful for a young ministry to have such a sponsor with influence. Everyone wins. Does it sound familiar? Do we have similar expectations as donors and are there people around us who can make things happen because of that? Do we get invitations to meet with important people? Do we get moved to the front of the line, into the roped-off sections or close to the head table? Are there people around us who work hard to get us into the right places to meet with the right people due to our status as donors? Of course we do and we get used to it. Any special privilege over time becomes comfortable and even expected. It’s part of the advantage of being a donor. We can pull strings and get special treatment. That’s how it works and it is naive to think otherwise.

An Inconvenient Reversal

The real surprise for me is the response of Jesus. I would expect him to be offended or to say, “The first will be last and the last first.”  No one gets VIP access to Jesus. I might have actually applauded if he had demanded that the centurion come in person to make his request. But he does not say this. For whatever reason, Jesus leaves what he is doing and goes with the men sent by the centurion. Then on the way to his home the word comes from the centurion that he has changed his mind and Jesus does not need to come. Instead he recognizes the authority of Jesus – making the trip unnecessary. Again, the unusual response of Jesus. “This is the greatest faith I have seen.”  He isn’t upset about the request for special treatment and then what might have been an inconvenient reversal.

I would love to see more of us make the same shift in our thinking as the centurion. Instead of using the system to get special treatment, we would say about ourselves, “We do not deserve this because we are donors. This is not the way things should be done. We will trust instead.” It’s not easy to stop all the well-intentioned (and some not so well-intentioned) people who have learned how to get passes and favors for donors…but it is a step in the right direction. What if we graciously declined the offers and perks and made it unnecessary for the ministries to figure out ways to make us feel special? After all we don’t really deserve it.

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Showing 12 comments
  • Avatar
    Richard Aydelotte
    Reply

    Well said. This might wrinkle some feathers.

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      So far so good! No threats or negative comments.

  • Avatar
    tony
    Reply

    Fred, a challenging thought! After this becomes the “new norm”, what/how are we going to name all those buildings, parks, auditoriums, etc that bear the names of donors?

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Good question. Maybe we just number buildings or name them after other people.

  • Avatar
    David Galloway
    Reply

    I believe the phrase, which should be familiar to all, is quid pro quo. Giving this in order to get that. That’s the main rule of our culture. Bang for the buck, get what you pay for. What you are suggesting is the radical reorientation of self which is subversive. People like Clarence Jordan seemed to get it as he couched Gospel in a Southern idiom which brought the radicality home to me when I was reading his Cotton Patch version of the Gospels bac in the ancient days of the Seventies. Thanks for re-minding me of the subversion of reality of Jesus in his call to the Kingdom of God, where up is down, first is last, and quid pro quo can take a rest.

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      I am reading Will Willimon this week to prepare for his coming to Tyler next month. I suspect he would agree with you.

  • Avatar
    David Clouse
    Reply

    Any ideas about how to graciously decline all the little gifts from organizations that arrive over the holidays… I know the organizations mean well, but I so do not look forward to all of them!

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Send me a list of the organizations and I will take care of it for you. Just kidding, of course. My concern is not with the “swag and merch” we get as it is with the assumption that we want special treatment.

  • Avatar
    Karen Jones
    Reply

    Two thumbs up

  • Avatar
    Keith Cobell
    Reply

    I remember one situation where I met the CEO of a major international NGO and over lunch our discussion turned to how money provides access, and the “other” golden rule: “he/she who has the gold makes the rules.” The well-meaning CEO contended that we were meeting for lunch not because I represented a foundation that gave to his organization but because he was open to meeting with anyone. When I prodded him that he simply didn’t have the time in his day to meet with everyone in this way, he responded that he was not giving me any special treatment.

    I walked away from that meeting recognizing we were both playing our part to maintain the system you describe.

    Thank you for shining a light on that.

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      It’s always going to be a dance, isn’t it? However, I think we can make changes in the tune. I hope so.

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